Will we see the return of colds and the flu?

With covid restrictions lifting, we’ve seen an increase in social interactions, reduction in social distancing plus many people are returning back to the workplace meaning busier commutes and households naturally mixing much more. There are so many positives to these new-found freedoms but what does this mean for colds and flu’s?

With so much media declaring that the flu is eradicated and no longer a risk, many doctors and scientists are concerned this is only spreading a dangerous message which is not, at this point, absolutely certain.

Many are concerned that the complete opposite may actually be true, believing that measures taken to help control coronavirus also prevented the spread of influenza meaning when these measures are relaxed, colds and flu’s will also return.

Due to a year of isolation, the flu virus may have an advantage this year. Community immunity against flu will be low meaning less overall protection, along with the fact many babies and young children will have had little or no prior exposure to flu making them much more susceptible to illness if or when flu does circulate again, we could be heading for a bad flu season.

Our medical director and infectious disease specialist, Dr Richard Dawood explains; ‘Low flu rates in the winter of 2020/21 have resulted in an increase in the overall number of people who have had little or no prior exposure to flu; with larger numbers of susceptible people around, there is resulting an increased risk of transmission, and more likelihood of an outbreak. Flu symptoms are similar to those of coronavirus infection, so the potential for disruption as a result is extremely high. Flu vaccination is easy, and flu is preventable, so it makes lots of practical sense to be prepared and to prevent infection where possible.’

It seems that Professor Chris Whitty shares these feelings. When speaking at the final afternoon of NHS Confed’s annual conference, he said ‘We had a minimal flu winter last winter – we had very little RSV in children [and] we had relatively low adenovirus – [but] we will get all of those back this coming winter unless the Covid situation is so bad that everybody is starting to go back to essentially minimising their social contacts again.
‘So either we will have a very significant Covid surge, people will minimise their contacts and we will have less respiratory viruses, or people will be back to more normal life, there will be some Covid but on top of that we’ll go back to having a flu surge.’

There is unfortunately no way of knowing for sure and so we must assume that the lull in flu activity is only temporary. As the flu jab remains the best protection against flu, it seems sensible to have this vaccination like every year before.

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