By Clayton Baumgarth
Flu infections are on the rise as we head into what is projected to be one of the worst flu seasons in several years.
According to health data released by the CDC, certain parts of the country are already seeing high or very high flu activity. An uptick in respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infections also signals a bad flu season is on the way.
“During COVID, the interventions like masking, social distancing, hygiene, helped to reduce the spread of not only COVID, but also other pathogens like RSV and influenza,” said Regenstrief Institute Vice president of data and analytics Dr. Shaun Grannis. “So, there's less immune stimulation result coming from the reduced circulation of the microbial agents. And if there's less, if there are fewer viruses out there, then there's going to be less immune response.”
This ‘immunity gap’ theory says that since our immune systems didn’t have to work as hard thanks to these efforts, there was less immune system stimulation and therefore less immune system response.
The state of upcoming flu season doesn’t come as a huge shock to people like Grannis. Scientists keep an eye on Australia and other countries in the southern hemisphere during their winter, which happens during our summer, to see how their population fares through the flu season. This time around, Australia had its worst flu season in five years.
Grannis said that there’s one thing he’d like everyone to do before the start of winter.
“I think people should strongly consider getting the influenza vaccine,” he said. “It's known to be quite effective. It's been well studied over several years.”
He suggests getting a flu shot and COVID booster as soon as possible, and to make sure to wash your hands regularly.