Flu vs. COVID-19: Why Experts Are More Worried About The Influenza Virus

The flu season is already here, and it entails another serious threat on top of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But experts are more worried about the influenza virus than SARS-CoV-2, which has been ravaging many parts of the world since last year. 

Flu Outbreak At University Of Michigan

School officials said Monday that 528 cases of the flu have been reported on the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor campus, prompting federal health experts to look into the outbreak at the academic facility. 

The Washtenaw County Health Department, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the university itself are working on gathering more information on the cases and how the virus was transmitted and spread on the campus. 

The first positive case was reported on Oct. 6, and the figure quickly soared more than a month later. Of the documented cases, 77% accounted for unvaccinated individuals, according to school officials. There were also signs that the virus spread quickly within the premises of the school. In the week of Nov. 8, the school had 313 cases. The previous week, the total number was at 198. 

U-M’s School of Public Health associate professor of epidemiology Emily Martin, who is working closely with the CDC team amid the flu outbreak, told New York Times that they are expecting the cases to rise in number as more students have started to take tests for symptoms that overlap with COVID-19. 

Last year’s flu season was reportedly mild compared to the previous years. And it was mostly because many people were strictly following the masking, social distancing and quarantine protocols at the time, considering that the vaccines were still not as widespread back then. 

This year, as schools have reopened and almost every part of the economy has resumed operations, medical experts strongly encouraged everyone to get vaccinated against influenza ahead of the flu season. There was even a debate on which vaccine to prioritize between the flu shots and the COVID-19 jabs amid the pandemic. 

For its part, the CDC issued a guidance stating that the flu vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine “may now be administered without regard or timing.” The public health agency even said that simultaneous administration of the two vaccines in the human body should not be a cause for concern since they do not counteract each other. 

Why Experts Worry More About The Flu

Even though the flu is only viewed as a seasonal problem at present, medical experts are actually more worried about its detrimental effects than COVID-19. Historically speaking, the flu virus has taken away more lives than SARS-CoV-2 worldwide.

In a normal year, the flu kills anywhere between 290,000 and 650,000 people across the globe. On the other hand, COVID-19 has killed 5.1 million people around the world. Should an influenza pandemic happen anytime soon, the virus is expected to kill about 33 million people, according to the National Academy of Medicine

In September, COVID-19 was dubbed the “deadliest” outbreak in the U.S. after the number of fatalities surpassed the estimated 675,000 deaths in the country due to the influenza outbreak that took place between the spring of 1918 and the spring of 1919. But worldwide, the Spanish flu actually resulted in at least 50 million deaths. 

“Influenza pandemics have occurred repeatedly, and experts worry that the risk for an influenza pandemic may be even higher during the COVID-19 era due to changes in global and regional conditions affecting humans, animals, and their contact patterns. While it is difficult to predict when it will occur, a major influenza pandemic is more a matter of ‘when’ than ‘if,’” the Academy said. 

To counter the anticipated problem, the Academy recommended developing a universal flu vaccine that should work against the current and future strains of the influenza virus. A collective effort is needed to come up with this universal vaccine that would benefit all of mankind. 

“COVID-19 has enabled the emergence of new capabilities, technologies, collaboration, and policies that could also be deployed before and during the next influenza pandemic. It's critical to invest in science, strengthen health systems, and ensure trust in order to protect people from the health, social, and economic consequences of seasonal and pandemic influenza,” Academy President Dr. Victor Dzau told CNN Wednesday.

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