Ireland is on course for a ‘twindemic’ this autumn and winter as experts forecast a resurgence of flu alongside another wave of Covid-19.
Ovid measures, including masking and social distancing, have helped keep the flu at bay over the past two years, but the virus has hit Australia hard in our summer and that’s usually a sign of what’s happening in the northern hemisphere winter will happen.
Cooler homes due to the energy crisis may also weaken older people’s immune systems, making them more susceptible to respiratory diseases.
Trinity College immunologist Professor Kingston Mills said a poor flu season in Australia could portend a similar winter here, although at this point it’s difficult to predict the exact course of the virus in that country.
Prof Mills said Australia’s tighter Covid-19 restrictions may have lowered the population’s immunity to flu more than in Europe.
But he said, “What’s important is that the flu vaccine matches the strains that are circulating here.”
The public health consequences of a bad flu season are more serious illnesses, hospitalizations, absenteeism from staff and overcrowding with another round of surgery cancellations.
When asked if it had increased its winter flu vaccine orders, the HSE couldn’t say what volume it expects at this point.
However, a spokesman said it had “contracted sufficient supplies for the target population determined by the Department of Health”.
It will launch the flu and Covid-19 booster vaccines together and offer dual shots for healthcare workers and the over-65s in October.
Figures on flu vaccine uptake in GPs and pharmacies last winter showed that 70.5 percent of those over 65 got the vaccine.
But it was as low as 54.2 per cent in Roscommon, 54.9 per cent in Dublin West, 55.2 per cent in North Tipperary and East Limerick and 56.6 per cent in Laois-Offaly.
In Australia, seasonal flu typically occurs in mid-July and cases peak in September.
This year, however, it came in April, and by June, cases had been reported ten times higher than the five-year average.
The nature of the circulating influenza was also a concern and the H3N2 strain was dominant. This has more impact and older people are more prone to it. Vaccines are also usually less effective in protecting against it.
dr Jack Lambert, adviser on infectious diseases and professor of medicine at UCD, said another round of Covid-19 and flu would result in elective surgeries and procedures being postponed.
“Hospitals will take another hit,” he said.
On average, around 500 people died from the flu over the winter before Covid 19.
The flu threat comes amid plans to scale back expensive free PCR Covid-19 tests and only make them available on the basis of strict criteria clinical GP referral.
Testing was curtailed earlier this year, reducing the level of surveillance through this method.
As sewage testing for Covid-19 continues across the country, there are concerns that fewer lab tests could mean that new variants are not released early into circulation.
The Health Protection Surveillance Center (HPSC) will take on a larger surveillance role, but will require a significant number of new staff.
Up to 100 GPs will be involved in a sentinel system, returning information about Covid-19 patients in the same way a smaller number worked to monitor flu. A number of specific hospitals will also be involved.
More staff is needed to make the plan fully operational by winter. There is also a need to hire more national ambulance personnel to carry out swab duties in the event of a serious escalation in the spread of infection in certain areas.
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/health/twindemic-of-both-flu-and-a-covid-wave-to-hit-this-winter-41924505.html “Twindemic” of both the flu and a Covid wave that will hit this winter