In a year dominated by coronavirus news, many illnesses have fallen by the wayside both in their priority for treatment and occupation of our thoughts. Experts are now warning countries in the Northern Hemisphere that the coming winter could bring a new wave of Covid cases, which could well be exacerbated by the return of an old friend: seasonal flu.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that while the severity of symptoms varies from person to person, influenza still represents a significant public health concern in the United States each year. Their estimates reflect the fact that the flu has led to between 12,000 and 61,000 deaths annually since 2010. While less of an immediate concern compared to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, experts warn that contracting both diseases at the same time could significantly increase a patient’s risk of mortality.
A report, published in the British Medical Journal, suggests that co-infection with influenza and Covid-19 increases the severity of the disease and almost doubles a patient’s risk of death. A quote from Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, taken from a Public Health England media briefing reads: “There is now some emerging evidence which clearly suggests that coinfection with influenza and Covid-19 produces bad outcomes. One of these diseases is currently vaccine preventable, and that’s the really important point.”
Worryingly, a survey published by the University of Michigan and C.S Mott Children's Hospital has found that some parents are considering skipping their children’s flu vaccines this year in light of the pandemic.
"We may see peaks of flu and Covid-19 at the same time, which could overwhelm the health care system, strain testing capacity and potentially reduce our ability to catch and treat both respiratory illnesses effectively," said Mott Poll co-director Sarah Clark in a statement. "Our report finds that even during the pandemic, some parents don't see the flu vaccine as more urgent or necessary. This heightens concerns about how the onset of flu season may compound challenges in managing Covid-19."
The Mott Poll report includes 1,992 responses from parents of children aged 2 to 18 years who were surveyed in August, taken from a sample reported to be nationally representative. Of the responses, Covid-19 wasn’t the only reason some families were planning to forgo their children’s vaccinations this year, with other common explanations including concerns about side effects or beliefs that it isn't necessary or effective.
"A key challenge for public health officials is how to reach parents who do not routinely seek seasonal flu vaccination for their child," said Clark. "There is a lot of misinformation about the flu vaccine, but it is the best defense for children against serious health consequences of influenza and the risk of spreading it to others.
"Children should get the flu vaccine not only to protect themselves but to prevent the spread of influenza to family members and those who are at higher risk of serious complications.”