The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that the number of cases of influenza in the U.S. plummeted by 98% last season. The reasons for the dramatic decline include fewer people traveling, more people wearing masks and social distancing, along with more Americans getting the flu shot. While the flu is making a slow start so far, the CDC says an increase in cases has begun, and most can be traced to Influenza A (H3N2), a strain associated with more severe flu seasons.
Be forewarned. With COVID-19 restrictions lifted and children back at school we can expect a particularly harsh flu season. “Even though it’s smoldering out there, it could take off at any time,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
“We’ve gone over a year without a significant portion of the population getting infected with flu and getting immunity because of that,” Dr. Andy Pekosz, a professor in the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health told NBC News. “That could mean that the susceptible people in the population to flu are going to be increasing.”
People who get the flu develop some immunity to the virus. But without a significant flu season this past year, there could be more than double the number of people without prior immunity in the country. And that could mean more deaths, especially among the young.
“With low level immunity, that could bring more cases,” said Dr. Scott Hensley, associate professor of microbiology at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. “We could see more pediatric deaths and, concurrent with that, a rise in cases in the whole community. That’s because overall population immunity is predicted to be low.”
Hensley reported that influenza is a major health threat to our nation, causing 30,000 deaths annually during a typical season. He added that this year, there does not seem to be a variety of flu strains in circulation. But some experts counter that we may not be seeing many strains because the reported cases are so few.
Many people wonder if having COVID-19 offers any protection against influenza. According to nj.com, you can — and should — get a flu shot even if you’ve had COVID-19.
“The antibodies produced against COVID are specific to the virus that causes COVID,” said Dr. Sandra Adams, a virologist and biology professor at Montclair State University. Adams recommends waiting at least 10 days before getting the flu shot if you’ve tested positive for COVID-19.
In August, the CDC warned that individuals with COVID-19 should postpone their flu shot until they are symptom-free to protect clinicians and healthcare workers. The demand for flu shots is expected to be particularly high with over 190 million doses available, says Medpage Today. Experts say that people who are at high risk for COVID-19, including staff and residents in long-term care facilities and those with underlying medical conditions should definitely get their flu shots this year.
There is another compelling reason to get your flu shot this year. If you get influenza along with COVID-19, you are at greater risk of developing respiratory failure and pneumonia.
The CDC says that the composition of flu vaccines has been updated for the 2021-2022 season and all the vaccines are quadrivalent, which means they have been engineered to protect against four different flu viruses. One vaccine, the Flucelvax Quadrivalent, has been licensed and approved for people two years and older.
The agency adds that you can get both the COVID-19 vaccine and the flu shot at the same time but encourages people to stick to the recommended COVID-19 vaccine schedule for maximum protection. You can also receive the flu shot when you get your booster, says the CDC
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