Over the past 18 months, we’ve all been preoccupied with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and the suggestions that other seasonal viruses such as Flu have seemingly disappeared. But how accurate is that? As normality resumes, largely thanks to a successful vaccination programme, we’re thankfully seeing Covid becoming less prevalent within the population. Many scientists and doctors are now looking ahead and trying to determine what to expect in the upcoming flu season. There’s currently a lot of uncertainty about what exactly this will look like and what precautions should be taken, particularly within the workplace.
What was last year’s flu season like?
Last flu season was very unusual, with virtually no cases of flu being reported in the UK, as well as many other countries worldwide. There were minimal hospitalisations and almost no deaths – a statistic which hasn’t really been seen for over a hundred years.
How did the Coronavirus pandemic impact the spread of influenza?
The lack of flu cases could be attributed to a number of different theories. Our Medical Director, Dr Richard Dawood suggests that “social distancing and workplace hygiene precaution have undoubtedly had a big impact on flu and reducing the risks”, along with many people working from home or on furlough and therefore not mixing in the workplace. This opinion is shared by many other experts too and it makes sense. While others have speculated that coronavirus could have outcompeted the flu virus in terms of transmissibility. It is likely to be a combination of things but as the world reopens, even just slightly, and with cases of coronavirus declining in the UK, we may experience a very different flu season this year.
What will the next flu season look like?
There has been debate amongst experts as to what the upcoming flu season will look like. Has the flu been eradicated for good? Or will it return worse than before? Because there were so few cases of flu last year, the level of immunity within the population will be considerably less than in previous years, meaning more people will be susceptible to the virus. This is likely to be a particularly big issue for the workplace, especially if social distancing measures are removed and offices return to working at usual capacity. The flu virus will likely spread among colleagues quite easily. Additionally, the lack of flu cases last year also means that it will be difficult to predict which strain of flu will be dominant this year – information that is usually used to determine the flu vaccine. Dr Dawood has suggested that the fact there was so little flu last year “has created a large susceptible population, raising concerns that flu could come back with a vengeance”.
What does that mean for workplace flu vaccinations?
The possibility of a rife upcoming flu season places greater importance on workplace flu vaccination programmes, now more so than ever. Workplaces especially are likely to be breeding grounds for flu, with many people from different households in close proximity daily. The best preventative measure is a flu jab. Ensuring workplaces get vaccinated will be of the utmost importance. Even pre-pandemic, millions of pounds were lost every year due to absences due to flu and with so many disruptions to the workplace already over the past 18 months, it is more important than ever to protect the workforce against flu. Dr Dawood points out the similarities between flu and covid could again cause confusion, stating, “there is also the fact that flu symptoms can be very similar to those of Covid-19, with potential to cause considerable confusion and disruption if an outbreak occurs”. While we cannot know yet for certain, there is a lot of evidence to point to the strong possibility of a particularly bad flu season. In this case, it’s best to be prepared and getting ahead with workplace vaccinations, along with hygiene and masks wearing practises (if necessary) will be the best form of preparation.