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Health officials warn of COVID-flu collision

Concerns are rising about the possibility of a "twindemic" of COVID-19 and influenza as the seasons for the two respiratory infections collide this winter.

A sign on a street directs people to a COVID-19 vaccination center in downtown Baltimore, Maryland
A sign on a street directs people to a COVID-19 vaccination center in downtown Baltimore, Maryland (AN/R. Powers)

WASHINGTON (AN) — With colder weather arriving across much of the Northern Hemisphere and COVID-era travel and social-gathering restrictions fading into memory, public health officials warn the upcoming influenza season could pack a wallop.

Health officials look south of the equator, where the flu season is usually from May to October, for a predictor of what to expect in the Northern Hemisphere. In Australia and New Zealand flu began to appear earlier this year with the number of cases up and more people hospitalized.

"This is not a time to relax," Hans Kluge, the World Health Organization’s regional director for Europe, told reporters in Copenhagen on Monday.

After a relatively mild flu season last year with people wearing masks, traveling less and schools and offices closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, health officials are concerned about the possibility of a "twindemic" of COVID-19 and influenza as the seasons for the two respiratory infections collide this winter.

Vaccines the best protection

Health officials are urging people, especially those at high risk, to get a flu shot as soon as possible before the season progresses. Older people and those with compromised immune systems are encouraged to get both a flu shot and COVID-19 booster.

Kluge said vaccination remains "one of our most effective tools against both flu and COVID-19” and urged  anyone eligible to get vaccinated against both.

"With COVID-19 and seasonal influenza co-circulating, the health of vulnerable people — including the elderly, the immunocompromised, pregnant women and newborns — is at greater risk," Kluge said.

COVID-19 continues to mutate

The 53 countries that make up the WHO Europe region  — including Russia and parts of Central Asia — are again at the epicenter of the pandemic and account for nearly 60% of new cases worldwide, Kluge said.

Researchers are tracking the emergence of several new coronavirus variants that can elude protections of the latest booster vaccines. So far, the new variants do not cause more severe symptoms, but researchers expect the virus to continue to mutate in ways that will allow it to evade immunity.

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