Flu season back bigger after early COVID-19 years

Teddy bear surrounded by cough syrup, mask, tissue, and thermometer. Photo Credit: Pexels

By Hannah Lee

For the past couple of years, cold and flu season have been dwarfed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but now that more people are returning to a sense of normalcy, this may not be the case. With the rise of new COVID variants and experts predicting a brutal flu season, colder weather could spell trouble. According to John Hopkins, colds, flu, and other respiratory viruses are more common during the winter months because people are indoors more often, and dry air can weaken resistance. 

While several new strains of COVID19’s Omicron variant have recently emerged, the three strains that scientists are closely examining right now are BA.1, BQ1.1 and XBB. According to the World Health Organization, these strains have been identified in 65 countries and show a “significant growth advantage” over other variants. Preliminary studies done by the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory also show that BA.1 and BQ1.1 appear to be better at dodging antibodies from past infections than BA.5, another Omicron subvariant that was the dominant strain this summer.

Flu developments also point to trouble. According to the CDC’s influenza tracking website, 4,326 people have been hospitalized across the United States in the past week. These rates surpass the number of flu hospitalizations for every season since 2010. This year’s flu season may be worse than others because with fewer people masking, there are more opportunities for the flu to spread.

Another virus of concern is the Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection (RSV), which causes mild, cold-like symptoms that could potentially lead to bronchitis. The virus is especially dangerous to infants and older people. CDC surveillance indicates a surge in RSV-related hospitalizations and emergency department visits throughout the US.

Experts are particularly concerned about the oncoming ‘tripledemic’, a combination of COVID, the flu, and RSV. Not only is it possible for a person to come down with two or more of these viruses at the same time, but the danger present in each is cumulative. Pediatric Beds in 17 states are now at 80% capacity amid an upsurge of children getting respiratory viruses.

The best way to protect yourself and those around you is to get the bivalent COVID booster and flu shot.