Initial findings from Australia are suggesting that the U.S. should gear up for a busy flu season for the first time since COVID began. Flu season always starts in the southern hemisphere and is often used as a guide as to what the U.S. can anticipate.
Dr. Robert Citronberg, executive medical director of infectious disease and prevention at Advocate Aurora Health, told NBC that there are several factors on why this flu season could be different than others.
One factor is that many people have vaccine fatigue from the push to get vaccinated and boosted for COVID. But it’s important to still get your flu vaccine once they’re available.
“Flu isn’t completely preventable with the vaccine but it’s controllable,” said Citronberg. “If we get fewer people getting vaccinated this year for flu then it can really impact how many cases we have and the severity of those cases.”
Another reason we may see more cases this year is because flu cases have been at an all-time low for the past two years due to COVID precautions such as wearing a mask and isolation. That can make it more difficult to predict which strains of flu that this year’s vaccine should protect against. Still, the flu vaccine remains the best available protection you can get.
According to the data in Australia, flu cases in children may spike this year if we follow a similar circulation as the southern hemisphere. Children have had limited exposure to flu the past few years which can increase susceptibility.
“The more you get influenza you do develop antibodies to different strains,” said Citronberg.
The last factor is the notion of a ‘Twindemic’ meaning having one respiratory virus lead to another, specifically COVID and flu.
“Once you have lung inflammation you are more susceptible to infections of other pathogens whether they are other viruses [or] bacteria,” said Citronberg.
This is similar to how an influenza infection can quickly turn into a pneumonia infection due to inflammation in the lungs.
Citronberg encourages you to get tested and vaccinated for flu and COVID to help prevent the spread of the viruses. Even better, you can kill two birds with one stone at your next appointment.
“You can absolutely get the COVID shot and the flu shot on the same day,” said Citronberg.