Utah – According to the Utah Department of Health, influenza levels were so low last year so people have developed a reduced immunity. That means the upcoming season could be early and possibly severe.
An analytical epidemiologist at the Utah Department of Health, Janelle Delgadillo, said influenza was largely reduced because of prevention measures against COVID-19 last year, but since pandemic restrictions have relaxed the virus will most certainly return this year.
“There’s a lot we don’t know about the upcoming 2021-2022 flu season,” she said. “However, we do know that multiple respiratory viruses will be circulating in the community this fall and winter. The circulation of multiple viruses could place a renewed high burden on the healthcare system.”
According to Lynette Brammer, an influenza expert at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said antibodies that protect against the flu wane over time.
“Because there was little flu virus activity last season, adult immunity, especially among those who were not vaccinated last season, will now depend on exposure to viruses two or more seasons earlier,” she said. “Young children also will have lower immunity to flu. As children return to school and potentially get infected, there could be a higher number of children with no prior exposure to flu and therefore lower immunity which could increase illnesses.”
Brammer said this lack of exposure to more recently circulating viruses underscores another important reason to get vaccinated against influenza this season.
Nurse epidemiologist for the Weber-Morgan Health Department, Amy Carter, said while it’s hard to predict what kind of flu season awaits the public, a lot will depend on people’s actions.
“We recommend that it’s important and maybe even more important this year that people go and get the vaccine,” she said. “It’s also really important for people to stay home if they’re sick, wash their hands and cover their cough and sneezes.”
According to health officials, the recommended time to get the vaccine is between September and October. Brammer said getting vaccinated too early, however, is likely to be associated with reduced protection against flu infection later in the season, particularly among older adults.
“Children who need two doses should start the vaccination process sooner because the two doses must be given at least four weeks apart,” she said.
According to Delgadillo, influenza is an infection of the nose, throat, and lungs and is easily spread from person to person. There are different types of flu viruses, but the most common are influenza A and influenza B.
“There are also different strains of each type of virus. This information is important so scientists can develop the best flu vaccines for each flu season,” she said.
According to Delgadillo, with COVID-19 on the rise again, it may be difficult to recognize which illness you have because many of the symptoms overlap, including fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headaches, vomiting, and diarrhea. Both illnesses may also cause a change in or loss of smell or taste, although this is more common with COVID-19.
“COVID-19 may cause more severe illness in some people. Children and adolescents may also develop a rare but severe complication as a result of a COVID-19 infection, known as a multisystem inflammatory syndrome,” she said. “Children, especially those younger than 5 generally have a higher risk of serious complications from flu compared to COVID – 19. However, COVID-19 may still result in hospitalization and death in young, healthy children.”
This year’s vaccine will protect against H1N1 and H3N2, which are both influenza A strains, plus B/Victoria and B/Yamagata