Flu season is right around the corner and public health officials are concerned. They fear that influenza infections on top of COVID-19 could be a deadly combination. That’s why they are urging people to get their flu shots early. With adequate immunization, we might be able to avoid a bad flu season.
This Year Might Not Result in a Bad Flu Season:
There is a glimmer of good news on the horizon. Australia, South Africa and other countries in the Southern Hemisphere are just finishing with flu season. Unlike almost everything else in 2020, this year’s influenza infections were surprisingly light. In August of 2019, Australian laboratories had verified more than 60,000 cases of influenza. By August of 2020, however, there were just barely more than 100. South Africa would normally have 1000 laboratory-confirmed cases during their winter but this year, they had just one.
Of course, not all cases of influenza are laboratory confirmed, but the difference is dramatic. Public health officials attribute this to steps taken to reduce coronavirus transmission: wearing masks, staying home, maintaining distance and washing hands. This good news from the Southern Hemisphere should not lead to complacency, however.
What We Must Do:
Americans have been less rigorous than people in some other countries about face masks and staying home. In summary, we will still need to get our flu shots and practice all possible preventive measures to avoid BOTH influenza and COVID-19. Otherwise, it could be a very bad flu season indeed.
Last year, the pattern of infection was atypical. The season started early, with the less debilitating influenza B dominating. Before flu season finished, however, all eyes were on COVID-19 as it spread around the world. Telling the difference between these two diseases can be difficult, but when a person has both at the same time, they may become extremely ill (European Journal of Case Reports in Internal Medicine, April 20, 2020). While we don’t yet have a vaccine against the coronavirus, we can vaccinate against the flu. In addition, using simple physical measures like extra-careful hand washing should help protect us against both infections.