The threat of a 'twindemic'
January 2022: Owing to the relaxation of quarantine measures, influenza – which almost disappeared last year – is returning, according to international and EU medical authorities, writes Lina Kolesnikova.
Tight restrictions last winter in Europe led to influenza virus disappearing almost completely. However, this year it is returning at a much faster pace according to European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and WHO data.
This process raises fears of a ‘twindemic’, especially since the most dangerous strain of the A(H3) influenza virus is in circulation this year. Twindemic is a term referring to the possibility of a severe flu season happening alongside an increase in cases of Covid-19.
Since mid-December, influenza viruses have been circulating in Europe at a faster-than-expected rate according to the ECDC. In December, the number of flu cases in European intensive care units rose steadily, peaking at 43 in the last week of the year. This is well below pre-pandemic levels, with more than 400 weekly influenza cases in intensive care units in 2018. But this is more than last year, when only one influenza case was reported in the intensive care unit for the entire month of December.
The WHO has also noted the rise of influenza: “The number of flu cases (caused by the influenza virus) detected in the WHO European Region was above what we would normally expect to find in the population for the second week in a row, which indicates the so-called flu season epidemic has started,” reports the agency.
The return of the virus could be the start of an unusually long flu season that could stretch into the summer, Pasi Penttinen ECDC's chief flu expert told Reuters. "If we start to lift all measures, the big concern I have for influenza is that, because we have had such a long time of almost no circulation in the European population, maybe we will shift away from normal seasonal patterns,” he said.
Such a twindemic could put undue pressure on already overburdened healthcare systems the ECDC report warns. According to data released by the French Ministry of Health, since last week, three regions of the country, including Paris, are experiencing an influenza epidemic. Others are in the pre-epidemic phase. France has already recorded 72 serious cases of influenza this season, with six deaths.
Another concern is flurona, a rare mixture of Covid-19 and influenza infections. Austria signalled its first case some days ago, just after Israel.
The WHO has also said that in the next two months, over half of the European population is likely to be infected by the Omicron variant of coronavirus.
Image: Dmitry Kovalchuk/Adobe Stock