The last few cold and flu seasons have looked different than in years past.
COVID-19, even as variations have become less severe and cases have dropped, is still the fourth-leading cause of death in the United States. With the BA.5 variant in the wild, making sure your COVID shots are up-to-date and that you have received your boosters is important as we head into fall. As leading virologist Dr. Peter Hotez, MD, PhD, says, ““that makes all the difference in whether you’re home working or doing whatever you want to do, versus sick in a hospital bed or an intensive care unit.”
When it comes to projections for the 2022-2023 cold and flu season, researchers are still considering the implications of the mild flu season of 2021-2022. Last year’s flu season was milder than in previous years, and researchers believe that COVID precautions and protocols may be deserving of credit. Testing and reporting were higher for flu season last year, so researchers feel confident about the observations they’ve been able to make for the 2021-2022 season. Researcher Angiezel Merced-Morales, MPH, reports, “”The adoption of COVID-19-related mitigation measures might have had an impact on the timing or severity of influenza activity.”
What does that mean for the 2022-2023 flu season? Now that many COVID protocols have been relaxed or removed, we could see an uptick in flu cases. Dr. Kizito Kyeremateng, Doctor of Pharmacy, believes we could see not only a rise in cases but also that the severity of cold and flu cases could be significant. He says, “The nearly absent cold and flu infections during the pandemic means that we were not been getting the regular boosts to our immune systems. Now, if you get exposed to these viruses after a long time, your immune system may not be able to protect itself as well. For this reason, we may be entering a more severe cold or flu season this upcoming fall.” And cases of colds and flu are expected to go back to pre-pandemic levels, as travel, large group settings, and other pre-pandemic behaviors go back to what is more usual for us.
What does this mean for you and your family?
Some of the things we became more diligent about during the pandemic can serve us well in this upcoming cold and flu season. Continued vigilance in washing your hands frequently, avoiding touching your face and nose, in covering coughs and sneezes, these are all simple things, but they can make a big difference. Health experts also say that nutrition, adequate sleep, and lowering stress levels make a significant impact on the power of the immune system and your body’s ability to fight off viruses.
For added protection, schedule your flu vaccine by October 2022.
Another health item to be watching for is monkeypox. The U.S. has now declared monkeypox as a public health emergency. So how worried should you be? Currenty, the U.S. only has a small stockpile of the monkeypox vaccine Jynneos, which is considered the far safer version of the two available vaccine options. While the good news is that an effective vaccine already exists, vaccine availability could become an issue in the coming months. Monkeypox is not anywhere as lethal as COVID-19 (about 3% of patients with monkeypox die), but it does have significant side effects and has a challenging recovery path.
The virus is spread through human-to-human contact in a variety of ways, including sexual activity, respiratory droplets and body fluids, but it is not as transmissible as COVID. And as we learned during the height of COVID, masking, frequent handwashing, and limiting contact with those who have been to areas with high rates of monkeypox all help protect you from contracting the virus. As of August 2022, there were 17,000 identified cases of monkeypox in the U.S., up from just 400 cases in June of 2022. U.S. health officials are working to being able to roll out a stronger vaccination program for monkeypox beginning in September 2022. Be sure to keep yourself updated on monkeypox cases in your area.