Health

Will the flu return in 2022 and how will it interact with COVID?

By mid 2021, more than a year had passed with zero lab-confirmed influenza deaths in Australia. 

The rest of the year continued in the same fashion. Only 598 laboratory-confirmed cases were registered until early November 2021 by the National Notifiable Disease Surveillance System (NNDSS).

Source: https://www1.racgp.org.au/newsgp/clinical/australia-records-zero-flu-deaths-over-past-12-mon

For context, that’s only 3% of the total recorded influenza cases in 2020, which itself was around eight times lower than the five-year average of 163,015. Nobody died from influenza in 2021 at all, and there has been just one hospital admission recorded since April.

What will happen in 2022?

In an interview with RACGP, Professor Ian Barr, the Deputy Director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza at the Doherty Institute, stated the following:

‘With increased travel and more porous borders, and lack of quarantine, and no testing for influenza at border sites, then it’s inevitable it’ll get back in this year.’ 

He also stated that it is even harder than usual to know what to expect given the unique situation, and cites recent outbreaks in South Africa and Brazil outside of their normal season as examples of the disease’s unpredictability.

Should we fear the onset of Flu-rona?

Let’s first clear the air. The word “flu-rona,” which has circulated on social media and refers to someone infected with both Covid and the flu. It does not mean that two viruses have somehow merged into one.

The nation’s chief medical officer, Professor Paul Kelly, has warned that flu-rona may be something to watch out for this year. 

Professor Kelly also stated there was a chance of reinfection with Omicron and he expected winter would bring more cases of COVID.

“I think winter, we will see more Covid – that’s been the case in every winter so far in all parts of the world,” Professor Kelly said.

“Whether that will be Omicron for people who have not yet got it during this wave or another variant, I can’t tell. That’s a crystal ball matter. What I do know though is that we’re almost certainly going to have a flu season this year as well in winter. And flu and coronavirus together, as has been seen in several countries in the northern hemisphere right now, is a challenge. So that’s a challenge we’re up to and up for in the coming months.”

“We know from the beginning of the pandemic that reinfection was actually quite rare in previous waves,” he said.

“If you had the original virus, it was unlikely you would get that again. There was protection from all of the previous waves up until Omicron in terms of reinfection.”

Minister Hunt said the government had planned for the possibility people would need a fourth COVID-19 vaccine.

“We don’t know yet, but we prepared for, we secured, we invested on that front,” he said.

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