Are you looking for a Thanksgiving health story? Consider adding the brewing “tripledemic” of pathogens to your coverage. Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), influenza and SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, are overwhelming hospitals, and some health care experts are urging families to bring back some of the pandemic’s mitigation measures during the holiday.
Tag Archives: flu
Tips for reporting on what experts say could be a tough flu season for the elderly
As cases of the Delta variant start to wane, infectious disease specialists have a new concern this fall — flu and pneumonia, especially in vulnerable populations like older adults.
Experts from the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) and the CDC expressed concern about a potentially serious flu season at a video press briefing on October 7. Flu cases during 2020-21 were extremely low— just 2,124 confirmed cases between Sept. 27, 2020, and May 15, 2021— thanks in large part to people working from home, wearing masks, social distancing and practicing good hand hygiene.
But as more communities ease restrictions, the flu could surge this year, impacting many more people. For seniors, whose immune systems are weaker than younger adults, that could mean an increase in hospitalizations, cases of pneumonia, or even deaths.
“The medical and public health community are preparing for a potentially vigorous respiratory virus session in the United States,” said William Schaffner, M.D., NFID medical director, who moderated the briefing. “The best way to prepare is to get your flu vaccine.”
Vaccination is especially important among at-risk populations, including adults 65 and older, and those with certain chronic conditions according to Schaffner.
Currently, the U.S. is on track for similar flu vaccination rates as 2020, about 52% overall, according to CDC director Rochelle Walensky, M.D., M.P.H., who participated in the briefing. That rate may not be good enough this year to keep case rates low.
A recent NFID survey revealed that even among those who are at high risk for complications, nearly 1 in 4 (23%) were not planning to get vaccinated this season. While most people over age 65 (71%) said they will get a flu shot, 30% of seniors would remain unprotected, leading to potentially serious consequences.
How to cover the 2021-2022 flu season
As it does every fall, the CDC is urging Americans to get their annual flu shot. Last year, flu was rare because Americans stayed home and wore masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This lack of flu from 2020 to 2021 (flu season generally occurs between October and May) could mean a potentially severe season this coming winter, CDC director Rochelle Walensky, M.D., M.P.H, said.
“When there is an active flu season one year to another, then we have…some protective immunity from the season prior,” Walensky said at the Oct. 7 flu season media briefing co-hosted by the CDC and the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) and several health providers. “We do not have a lot of protective immunity from last season and because of that, we are worried” about the most vulnerable populations including children, pregnant people and those 65 and older.
Last year, public health officials warned of a “twindemic” of both COVID-19 and the flu, but the worst of their fears did not materialize. Public health experts believe behavior restrictions implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19 (i.e., social distancing, mask-wearing and online learning in schools) also prevented the spread of the flu. This year, with many of the COVID-19 restrictions lifted, the public health community is bracing for a surge.
Public health officials are concerned that possibly because of vaccine fatigue, 44% of Americans were either unsure or didn’t plan to get vaccinated against the flu, and 25% of them are at high risk from flu complications, according to this NFID survey.
“Frankly, we are alarmed by the large number of people who said they won’t get vaccinated,” said William Schaffner, M.D., NFID’s medical director and professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
Prepare for another complicated flu season, with chance of a ‘twindemic’
As flu season nears, infectious disease and public health experts are even more worried than they were in 2020 about the possibility of a “twindemic” of both the delta variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and an influenza virus.
As of early September, hospitals in many states were already overwhelmed with patients sick from COVID-19, while the behavioral restrictions that prevented a severe flu season (i.e., masking, and social distancing) had been lifted in large swaths of the country. Continue reading
Updated tips to prepare for a complicated flu season this year
Until 2020, many Americans (except health reporters) tended to consider influenza as just a nuisance winter illness that might keep one in bed for a few days. However, this year, with COVID-19 still roiling the country, the flu needs to be considered more seriously.
Adding to concerns are polls showing that people may be reluctant to get a flu shot, which may influence others to hold off. CNN reports that one in three parents said they had no plan to go to their doctor’s office and vaccinate their kids, even though more than 100 children die of the flu each year. Most of the children that die from the flu didn’t get a flu shot. Continue reading