Why did flu season start so early this year?

Why did flu season start so early this year?

  • Flu cases are rising rapidly, particularly in the southern and eastern states.
  • October saw 1.6 million people in the US with symptoms of the virus.
  • Reasons for the rapid spread include reduced immunity, low vaccine uptake, and the end of COVID-19 mitigation measures.
  • The flu vaccine continues to provide the best protection against the virus.

This year’s flu season is already showing signs that we could see an extremely high number of cases.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Estimate that, in October alone, at least 1.6 million people in the US had the flu, while a minimum of 13,000 cases resulted in hospital admissions. A total of 730 deaths were also recorded, two of which were children.

We are still months away from the estimated top flu season, which usually occurs in February and March. This has led the CDC to condition that this flu season will likely be the worst in 13 years. So what is going on?

According to experts, three main factors have been driving the rapid rise in cases.

Even as we move away from the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, its effects continue to make themselves known.

COVID-19 restrictions such as mask wearing and social distancing have significantly reduced viral transmission.

The result?

“Unprecedented mild flu seasons in 2020-2021,” he stated. Dr Jason Kesslerhead of section of the Department of Medicine of Infectious Diseases of Morristown Medical Centerpart of the Atlantic Health System.

Kessler told Healthline, “the annual exhibition [to viruses] it helps ‘prime’ our immune system to prevent or attenuate these infections each year.”

The COVID-19 measures prevented exposure, and “this likely had the unintended effect of increasing the susceptibility of many people to infection and disease,” he added.

With COVID-19 mitigation measures lifted, seasonal flu is spreading again.

Also, with few flu cases during the pandemic, “the virus has had a long time to mutate.” Dr Shruti Gohil, associate medical director for epidemiology and infection prevention at UCI Health. he said. And, in the face of our lower immunity, this allowed it to hit harder.

Two factors related to the flu vaccine could be playing a role in the rise in cases.

The first is the number of people who are vaccinated (or not). Kessler highlighted that “the pandemic has been associated with a general increase in concerns about vaccine hesitancy and resistance.”

He noted that, although not yet proven, this may lead to fewer people getting flu shots. And, “if influenza vaccination has not penetrated widely in the community, it could result in more intense spread of influenza.”

“Influenza vaccination rates decreased in the 2020-2021 season compared to the previous year,” Gohil said.

Another factor is that the flu vaccine is not 100% effective against the disease. It is developed each year based on what researchers believe will be the most prevalent strains for the flu season. Sometimes the strains change or mutate when flu season hits, making the vaccine less effective.

Overall, the flu shot has been about 30 to 60 percent effective in preventing the flu in recent years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But that doesn’t mean you should avoid getting vaccinated.

“Some protection is better than none, and we are talking about a potentially fatal virus,” he explained. Dr. Cesar A. Ariasco-director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research at the Houston Methodist Research Institute.

“The flu kills 35,000 people every year in the United States,” he told Healthline. “The whole idea [of vaccination] is trying to protect you from this. Ask anyone if he wants to avoid death, and I think the answer would be a resounding yes!

Another reason flu cases seem high, other illnesses, including respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), are spreading widely and can be mistaken for the flu.

“It’s important to recognize that what is commonly referred to as the ‘flu’ may not always be caused by the influenza virus,” Kessler said.

Instead, he continued, “they can be related to infection by several different viruses: influenza virus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), parainfluenza virus, and SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). -19), among others. .”

These viruses spread through the population in the same way and have many of the same symptoms, such as fever, runny nose, cough, and fatigue.

Unless a test is done, it can be difficult to distinguish between them.

A general increase in other viruses, such as RSV, is also likely due to the lifting of post-pandemic restrictions, Arias added, as we engage in closer contact with others while having reduced immunity.

CDC data shows that flu cases are currently high among populations in eastern states such as New York, Virginia and North Carolina.

This is not surprising, Gohil revealed, since “in general, influenza infection generally moves from east to west.”

Arias explained that this could be because the East Coast faces cooler weather first and viruses thrive in cooler temperatures.

However, southern states like Florida, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia are also being hit hard by the flu.

“I think one factor in these states is that there are much lower vaccination rates than you see in other parts of the US,” Arias said.

Historically, these areas are shown have up to 50% fewer flu shots compared to northern states like Maine, New Hampshire, and Washington.

“Flu-like illness and flu test positivity rates are higher this year compared to similar time periods in previous years,” Gohil said.

However, it is not only the US that is experiencing the previous wave of infections. “Influenza hit 2 months earlier in Australia,” Gohil said, while Chile also experienced the same pattern

The number of hospitalized people is also remarkably high compared to this time in previous years. The CDC reported that “the cumulative hospitalization rate … is higher than the rate observed at week 43 during all previous seasons from 2010-2011.”

That said, it is the same population that is admitted to the hospital. “As in previous years, hospitalizations have been highest in the elderly (age 65 and older) and the very young (age 4 and younger),” Gohil shared.

“For children, a less developed immune system is probably the reason for this,” he continued. Meanwhile, “older patients have a weakened immune system associated with aging.”

Influenza cases and associated hospitalizations are increasing rapidly. The three key reasons behind this are believed to be:

  • Reduced immunity and exposure to germs after pandemic restrictions
  • Low vaccination uptake and potentially reduced vaccine efficacy
  • The simultaneous spread of other respiratory viruses with similar symptoms.

Children, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems are at greatest risk for severe flu symptoms. However, Arias noted, “even if you’re completely healthy, certain people [still] They have a serious illness.”

The best protection against the flu is vaccination. But wearing a mask, especially in crowded indoor spaces, can also offer a level of defense. Particularly if you are a high-risk person, “a mask can save your life,” Arias said.

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