Due to strict restrictions, the flu virus almost completely disappeared in Europe last winter, but this year it is returning at a much faster pace, Reuters reports, citing data from the EU medical regulator. This process raises concerns about a double epidemic or “twindemia”, especially since this year the most dangerous strain of the H3A influenza virus is circulating for the elderly.
According to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), since mid-December, influenza viruses have been circulating in Europe at a higher than expected rate. In December, the number of flu cases in European intensive care units steadily increased, reaching a peak of 43 patients in the last week of the year. This is significantly lower than the level that was before the pandemic, for example, in 2018, the number of weekly flu cases in intensive care units reached more than 400. But this is more than last year, when only one case of flu was registered in the intensive care unit for the whole of December.
The return of the virus could be the start of an unusually long flu season that could drag on into the summer, ECDC chief flu expert Pasi Penttinen told Reuters. “If we start canceling all measures, then I am most concerned about the flu, since we have had almost no circulation among the European population for so long, perhaps we will move away from normal seasonal patterns,” he said.
“Twindemia” may put undue pressure on already overburdened healthcare systems, the ECDC report says. According to data published by the French Ministry of Health since last week, there is an epidemic of influenza in three regions of the country, including the Paris region. Others are in the pre-epidemic phase. This season, 72 serious cases of influenza have already been registered in France with six deaths.
Flu vaccines are adapted every year to make them as effective as possible against ever-changing strains. Their composition is determined six months before the start of the flu season, based on the circulation of viruses in the opposite hemisphere. This gives drug manufacturers time to develop and manufacture drugs. However, last year, the flu virus practically did not circulate, so the vaccines available this year against it “will not be optimal” against H3A, experts say.
In mid-December 2021, Rospotrebnadzor reported that epidemic thresholds for the incidence of influenza and SARS were exceeded in 64 regions.
“Exceeding the weekly thresholds for the incidence of influenza and SARS is noted mainly among the adult population and adolescents,” the department clarified then.t.
In early October, the head of Rospotrebnadzor, Anna Popova, warned Russians that two new strains of influenza would appear in the country in autumn and winter. According to her, the WHO has adjusted the composition of the flu vaccine this year, now there are two new variants of the influenza A virus in it. “They are new, people have not met them before in The Russian Federation, therefore, needs to be protected from them, we have no immunity,” she said. In addition, Popova added that another risk group appeared among citizens during the flu – it includes people who have suffered a coronavirus infection.
The Ministry of Health allowed to be vaccinated against coronavirus and influenza at the same time. According to the agency, preclinical studies of the joint use of Sputnik V and the vaccine for the prevention of influenza have shown that the immunogenicity of both vaccines persists. However, the drugs should be injected into different parts of the body, such as the left and right shoulder.