Does getting the flu with COVID double the risk of death?
News Desk || shiningbd
Globally, an estimated 290,000 to 650,000 people typically die each year from seasonal flu. Last year, however, was different. The northern hemisphere winter of 2020-21 saw some of the lowest recorded flu death rates.
Scientists believe this was mainly due to restrictions put in place at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, most notably less mixing of people in indoor spaces, social distancing, mask wearing and hand washing.
Many countries, including the United Kingdom, also saw record numbers of people come forward for the flu vaccine during this time – motivated in part by fears of contracting COVID and flu at the same time. The result was fewer flu cases, hospitalisations, and deaths compared with previous flu seasons.
But as most of the developed world is now fully vaccinated against COVID, and governments are focused on reversing some of the economic damage of the pandemic, many social distancing measures have been lifted. In England alone, despite nearly 40,000 new cases of COVID per day, almost all protective measures to reduce the risk of transmission of the disease have been lifted.
As a result, there has been a stark rise in the number of COVID cases which has coincided with the onset of what is usually the flu season. There is a real worry that this year we could see more people than ever become infected with flu – and that many could get flu and COVID at the same time.
Although it was in some ways a good thing that we saw lower levels of flu circulating last year, this could come back to bite us this year.
Usually, flu seasons are easier to handle when some portion of the population has a natural immunity as a result of an infection the previous year. But as fewer people had flu last year, we will likely see less natural population immunity.
In addition to this, the northern hemisphere is usually able to look at the southern hemisphere – to countries like Australia, for example, which have their flu season before the north – to see which flu strains are circulating and to include those in the flu vaccine. But because Australia has had COVID lockdowns and restrictions in place that have limited the circulation of flu there, it is harder to accurately predict which strains will be around this season.
The flu and COVID-19 are serious illnesses – both can kill, and getting them at the same time increases your risk of becoming seriously unwell. Get the vaccines; it is our best line of defence against both.
All of this is likely to lead to an especially brutal flu season this year. To help mitigate this risk, many countries have rolled out an ambitious flu vaccine campaign and many Western countries have combined this with encouraging people to either take up the COVID vaccines if they have not already or to come forward for booster shots if they are eligible.
With all the news around COVID, it is easy to become complacent about flu, but it can be a serious and deadly disease. Flu can affect the lungs, cause pneumonia, cardiac problems and sepsis, which can lead to death. During an acute flu infection, the immune system can become weakened while fighting off the virus; if you were to then get another infection like COVID-19 at the same time, the risk of long-term organ damage and death increases.
But there are things you can do to reduce your risk of getting flu and COVID at the same time. The most important is to take up the vaccines if you are eligible. Although it is harder to predict this year, generally the flu vaccine can reduce your risk of illness by 40-60 percent.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has forecast the four flu strains likely to cause the most infections this year, and those are what the vaccines will protect you against. The flu vaccine will not give you the flu, only protect you from it, although some mild side effects like a sore arm or headache are normal.
It is also still advisable to wear masks in crowded indoor spaces and on public transport as well as to practise good hand hygiene. In addition to this, ventilating indoor spaces will help to blow away any particles containing the flu virus that have been breathed out by infected people.
The flu and COVID-19 are serious illnesses – both can kill, and getting them at the same time increases your risk of becoming seriously unwell. Get the vaccines; it is our best line of defence against both.Aljazeera