Relating to respiratory viruses, COVID has been our biggest concern over the previous two winters. So that you may really feel some facets of déjà vu as winter 2022 approaches in Australia.
However this 12 months is completely different. With relaxed public well being measures and the opening of worldwide borders, we are going to probably see an increase in flu instances. That is on high of a predicted rise in COVID.
The potential double-whammy has prompted the federal authorities to announce A$2.1 billion to focus on these anticipated spikes. The funding has been earmarked for measures together with vaccination, testing and measures to guard aged care.
Right here’s what to anticipate and methods to shield your self forward of winter.
Why can we anticipate extra flu?
The primary cause behind the anticipated rise in flu in 2022 is the opening of Australia’s worldwide borders.
Vacationers and returning residents can arrive with out quarantining, supplied they’ve the required COVID vaccinations and have had a COVID take a look at beforehand. Nevertheless, new arrivals don’t must be examined for the flu virus, which they could inadvertently convey with them.
Flu, a little bit like COVID, might be unfold by contaminated others earlier than signs come up or even when signs don’t seem, one thing we frequently see in kids. So as soon as flu arrives, it is going to inevitably unfold, no matter whether or not we use masks, hand sanitiser or different measures.
Prior to now two years, as an illustration, we’ve seen massive outbreaks of other common respiratory viruses. These embody respiratory syncytial virus, human metapneumovirus, adenoviruses and rhinovirus. We’ve seen these even with strict COVID measures in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland throughout 2020-2021.
How unhealthy will it get?
It’s extremely probably we’ll see COVID and influenza circulating on the identical time this winter. However much less sure is the extra catastrophic predictions within the media of a so-called twindemic or syndemic.
COVID is extra prone to persist and enhance in the course of the winter, and someday throughout this era influenza will pop up. However we’re unsure in regards to the particulars.
Will flu be delicate or extra regarding in 2022? Will we see an increase in instances in the course of the typical June-September interval, peaking usually in August? The solutions to those questions depend on historical past, the present scenario and a great deal of hypothesis.
Historical past tells us that after two seasons of low or no influenza circulating, we must always anticipate a extra extreme season. That’s as a result of nearly all of persons are not vaccinated towards influenza every year and peoples’ pure immunity after an infection could have waned.
Nevertheless, current evidence argues towards this. Within the Northern Hemisphere, there have been low ranges of flu circulating in most international locations, with shorter outbreaks, in contrast with pre-pandemic years.
We’ve additionally seen quite a lot of international locations within the Southern Hemisphere – together with South Africa, Brazil and Chile – having out-of-season flu outbreaks, throughout their 2021-2022 summer season.
So this may increasingly imply the timing of Australia’s regular influenza season could be delayed till spring and even later in 2022.
Will I get ‘flurona’?
We may see twin infections – when somebody has COVID and influenza on the identical time – generally dubbed “flurona”.
Whereas this has occurred, the charges of twin infections globally have been low. Usually, under 1% of people with COVID even have influenza on the identical time. Even with twin infections, individuals don’t appear to be sicker than if that they had COVID alone.
We’ll have a greater concept of how many individuals shall be contaminated with each viruses without delay with the usage of broader laboratory checks now out there at many websites. These so referred to as multiplex tests will detect a spread of respiratory ailments, together with COVID and flu, in a single take a look at.
Luckily, there is no such thing as a method a brand new “hybrid virus” can emerge containing components of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID) and the influenza virus in individuals with twin infections. These are distinct viruses that can’t mix.
How can I shield myself?
Regardless of the uncertainties round flu in Australia in 2022, one of the best ways to guard your self is to get your flu vaccine.
Everyone seems to be inclined to flu, irrespective of your age, well being or way of life. Nevertheless, some age teams and a few individuals with underlying illness are prone to undergo extra extreme penalties if contaminated with influenza.
These embody younger kids (particularly these beneath two years previous), individuals aged 65 and over, pregnant girls, individuals with persistent lung and coronary heart illness, these with bronchial asthma, diabetes and people who find themselves overweight.
Totally different flu vaccines goal completely different age teams with completely different formulations. These vaccines have a proven safety record and often solely trigger very delicate reactions, similar to soreness on the injection website, delicate fever or headache. These might final for a 12-24 hours and are simply handled with paracetamol or comparable drugs.
Flu vaccines are free for youngsters aged six months to beneath 5 years of age, individuals aged 65 or older, pregnant girls and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals six months and older. Folks not eligible without cost vaccines can nonetheless get them by way of their GP or some pharmacies.
This 12 months you received’t must schedule completely different visits in your influenza and COVID vaccinations. If wanted, you will get them at the same time.
Influenza vaccines shall be out there from late March and will provide protection for at the least 6-12 months. Whereas these vaccines should not good they assist stop an infection and the extra critical penalties of the flu, similar to hospitalisation and even loss of life. So in April to Might this 12 months, because the cool days and nights return, take into consideration reserving in and getting your flu shot.
Ian Barr, Deputy Director, WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza