Because we risk a combined epidemic of aggressive flu and Covid in the coming months

Thanks to the anti Covid measures introduced since the beginning of the pandemic, from lockdowns to social distancing, passing through masks and other limitations to personal freedoms, last year the flu was practically canceled. However, according to some experts, precisely because of the closures of 2020 in the coming months it could give rise to a particularly aggressive epidemic, which in combination with the spread of the Delta variant could bring health systems to their knees. Here because.

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As recently stated by the World Health Organization (WHO), despite the data epidemiological promising observed in several countries (such as the European ones) the COVID-19 pandemic it is not yet under control and, between autumn and winter, it could flare up with important tail swings. Moreover, even in countries with efficient vaccination campaigns – such asItaly, where 80 percent of the immunizable population has completed their cycle – they still are million of people not yet vaccinated, which risk the most serious consequences ofinfection gives coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. But scientists are also worried about the spread of another infectious disease, the too often underestimated influenza, which after a season under trace, with the flu viruses practically “canceled” thanks to the anti Covid measures, the next few months risks giving life to a dangerous combined epidemic with that of COVID-19, led by Delta variant. The risk is therefore that of a “twindemic”, A combination of influenza and SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus infection potentially leading to the collapse i health systems.

Raising the alarm about this potential risk are two scientists Mark S. Roberts and Richard K. Zimmerman, respectively professors of Health Policy and Management and Family Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. The professors, leading a team of experts in the management of vaccinations and of predictive mathematical models for the trend of infectious diseases, in a long article in “The Conversation” they explained why we should not underestimate the risk of twindemic, which can be triggered by multiple factors. As is widely known, i lockdown, the closure of schools and other activities, the use of masks, travel restrictions, the social distancing and the others limitations on personal freedoms have been introduced since the beginning of the pandemic for break the chain of infections the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus; this has had the virtuous effect of protecting us from other viruses as well, reducing the incidence of influenza parainfluenza syndromes and other infectious diseases whose pathogens take advantage of the proximity between people (as well as the cold).

But with the reopening and the general loosening of restrictions, by virtue of the improving epidemiological data, the doors have also opened wide for the return of our old enemies, who now I can profit even more than in the past. The increase in severe cases is already demonstrating this children of infection with human respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) registered in several countries. Scientists explain that this is due to the fact that many children, locked in the home during the toughest period of the restrictions, were not exposed to common viral agents and their immune system he has not “trained” enough; thus, once they returned to the world, they were attacked more virulence from pathogens, including RSV. The problem is particularly significant for the newborns, whose immune systems in 2020 did not initiate that natural biological process of “strengthening” due to interactions with others and the external environment. All of this can also be reflected in adults with the flu, due to the numerous circulating strains and their natural changeability.

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As specified in The Conversation by the two scientists, the immunitary defense of a person against influenza virus strains circulating in the current season are affected by several variables. These include how similar the new strains are to those you have been exposed to in the past and how recently those flu infections have occurred, should they have occurred. The diffusion of the flu shot and how effective the latter is against circulating strains. Since last year our immune system was not “invigorated” by the usual exposure to influenza viruses, this year we may not be sufficiently protected from those in circulation, making us more vulnerable to aggression, as is happening with respiratory syncytial virus in children. .

To determine this risk of “twindemic” in the United States, Professors Roberts and Zimmerman conducted two separate studies. In the first research “Agent-based Investigation of the Impact of Low Rates of Influenza on Next Season Influenza Infections” published on MedrXiv – and not yet subjected to peer review – used a mathematical model capable of predicting the spread of the influenza epidemic taking into account the social interactions (school, home, work etc etc) in the current context; while in the second research “Predicting the impact of low influenza activity in 2020 on population immunity and future influenza season in the United States”, also uploaded to Medrxiv, they modeled the simulation taking into account factors such as the number of people susceptible to infection, those infected, recovered, hospitalized or deceased. From these data analyzes it emerged that in the USA they are expected over 100 thousand more hospitalizations for flu compared to the hundreds of thousands that occur with a normal epidemic. “A typical flu season usually produces 30 to 40 million cases of symptomatic illness, between 400,000 and 800,000 hospitalizations and 20,000 to 50,000 deaths,” the two scholars write in The Conversation.

As it is believed that in the coming months there will still be a large number of people with COVID-19 hospitalized, both in ordinary departments than in those of intensive care, a similar wave of hospitalizations for the flu could bring i to my knees health systems. Of course not only in the US, but everywhere pathogens are spread. Fortunately it is not said that things will go like this, moreover we will always be able to defend ourselves from the flu, through the vaccine but also by continuing to comply with the rules of social distancing e use of the mask, which will still remain in place against COVID-19. A risk can be represented by children, who will be particularly exposed to viruses at school and who will be able to take them home, but it would be enough to increase vaccinations even among children to obtain a virtuous reduction in cases, as pointed out by the authors of the studies.

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