Health

Why did flu season start so early this year?

Why did flu season start so early this year?

Why did flu season start so early this year?

  • Influenza cases are increasing rapidly, especially in southern and eastern states.
  • In October, there are 1.6 million people in the US with symptoms of the virus.
  • Reasons for the rapid spread include reduced immunity, poor vaccination coverage and the end of measures to mitigate COVID-19.
  • The flu shot still provides 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.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that – in October alone – at least 1.6 million people in the US had the flu, while at least 13,000 cases resulted in hospitalization. 730 deaths were recorded, two of which were children.

We are still months away from an assessment the climax flu season, which usually occurs in February and March. That’s what led the CDC to do it condition that this flu season is likely to be the worst in 13 years. So what’s going on?

According to experts, three primary factors have led to the rapid increase in the number of cases.

Even as we move away from the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, its effects are still becoming known.

COVID-19 restrictions, such as wearing masks and social distancing, have significantly reduced transmission of the virus.

The result?

“Unprecedentedly mild flu season(s) in 2020-2021,” it said Dr. AS Jason Kesslerhead of the Department of Infectious Disease Medicine in Morristown Medical Centerpart of the Atlantic Health System.

Kessler told Healthline, “annual exposure [to viruses] it helps to ‘train’ our immune system to prevent or mitigate these infections each year.”

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

With the lifting of COVID-19 mitigation measures, seasonal flu is spreading again.

Additionally, with few flu cases during the pandemic, “the virus has been mutating for a long time,” Ph.D. Shruti Gohil, associate medical director for epidemiology and infection prevention at UCI Health. he said. And, given our weaker immunity, it allowed it to hit harder.

Two factors associated with the flu vaccine may play a role in the rise in cases.

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

He noted that although this has not yet been proven, it may lead to a decrease in the number of people getting flu shots. And, “if flu vaccination did not penetrate widely into the community, it could result in a more intense spread of flu.”

“Influenza vaccination rates are down 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 according to what researchers believe will be the most prevalent strains for the flu season. Sometimes strains change or mutate by the time the flu season starts, making the vaccine less effective.

In general, the flu shot was approx 30 to 60 percent effective in preventing the flu in recent years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But this does not mean that vaccination should be avoided.

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

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

Another reason why the number of flu cases seems high is that other diseases including respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are spreading widely and can be mistaken for flu.

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

Instead, he continued, they “may be associated with infection with several different viruses: influenza virus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), parainfluenza virus, and SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19), as well as others.”

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

Without a test, it can be difficult to tell them apart.

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

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

That’s not surprising, Gohil found, because “in general, flu infection tends to move from east to west.”

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

However, southern states – such as Florida, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia – have also been hit hard by the flu.

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

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

“Influenza-like illnesses and positive flu test rates are higher this year compared to similar periods in previous years,” Gohil said.

However, the earlier wave of infections is not only recorded in the USA. “The flu hit Australia two months earlier,” Gohil said, and also Chile experienced same pattern.

The number of hospitalized persons has also increased significantly compared to this time in previous years. The CDC reported that the ‘cumulative hospitalization rate … was higher than the rate observed at week 43 during any previous season since 2010-2011.’

However, it is the same population that was admitted to the hospital. “As in previous years, hospitalizations were highest among the elderly (65 years or older) and the very young (4 years and under),” Gohil said.

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

Influenza cases and related hospitalizations are rising rapidly. There are believed to be three key reasons for this:

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

Children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems are at the highest risk of severe flu symptoms. However, Arias noted, “even if you’re perfectly healthy, certain individuals will [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. Especially if you’re a higher-risk person, “a mask could save your life,” Arias said.



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