- U.S. flu season is expected to be severe in 2022, similar to Australia this year
- Experts worry about a ‘twindemic’ — a surge in flu and COVID cases over the winter
- Flu vaccines have been updated for 2022-2023 to target circulating viruses
- Precautions include staying on top of flu shots and COVID boosters, wearing masks around sick people or crowds, and isolating when sick
Why the 2022 flu season may be worse
The flu was almost non-existent during the last few years. It’s not so surprising because we wore masks, isolated when sick, and avoided crowds and travel. These COVID safety protocols may have also protected us against the influenza virus. But as Americans return to their regular lives, the flu may be back with a vengeance. Some experts are worried about a ‘twindemic’ — a surge in both flu and COVID cases, as seen in Australia.
Australia just had one of their worst flu seasons in recent years, which lasted longer than usual. People most affected were children aged 9 and under, and teens from 10 - 19 years, according to the Australian Government. Australia’s flu season ranges from April to October, before the United States. According to the CDC, flu season in the United States is usually in the fall and winter with peak months between December and February. Note: the virus can be active all year round and last as late as May.
What to expect this flu season
Historically, trends in the U.S tend to mimic those in Australia. CDC data shows that US flu cases are already soaring in states like Texas, Georgia, and D.C. This early start, similar to Australia, is why it is important to be aware and take basic precautions.
Not all experts agree that a double-whammy of a pandemic may be in store. Some infectious disease specialists feel that the immunity gained by fighting one of the infections can help against the other. In the face of conflicting opinions, what should we do to protect ourselves?
Dr. Rob Rohatsch, MD, Chief Medical Officer at Solv helps us wade through this information. He explains, “To protect ourselves and our loved ones, let’s focus on what we know for sure. Winter is coming and most of us are returning (or have returned) to in-person work and school. And with Thanksgiving and the holidays around the corner, family gatherings, trick-or-treating, crowds, and mass travel is inevitable. These are prime conditions for viruses to thrive. If you are eligible for a flu shot, consider getting one every year, as the CDC recommends. And don’t forget your COVID booster”
Who is most at risk this flu season?
Young children are at risk of severe disease from the flu since many of them stayed indoors during the pandemic, according to the CDC. In particular, children under two years of age may be more susceptible since they may not have had time to build up their immunity against the virus. For older kids, schools are a hotbed of super-spreader activity. The CDC notes that school-aged children are “a group with a high rate of flu illness.” These kids may pick up the virus and spread it to each other, their siblings, parents, grandparents, local community members, and more.
Seniors are another high-risk demographic. The CDC states that people who are 65 years and older are at a higher risk of developing serious complications from a flu infection. For this age group, there is also the threat of the virus rapidly spreading in assisted living or elder care facilities, causing severe illness or hospitalizations.
The CDC estimates that people 65 and older make up:
- 70 - 85% of deaths related to seasonal flu infections
- 50 - 70% of all hospitalizations from the seasonal flu
To err on the side of caution, the CDC advises everyone 6 months and up to get the flu shot, if eligible.
Solv is a convenient way to schedule your flu shots at a center near you. To discuss your vaccine eligibility with a medical professional first, use Solv for a video visit with a qualified provider. You can also find vaccines or medical care at an urgent care near you.
How to protect yourself this flu season
The USFDA stated that vaccines have been updated for the 2022-2023 flu season to better match circulating strains. The CDC recommends that everyone six months and older should get a flu vaccine every season, particularly if you are at a higher risk. The influenza virus can be serious and infections can lead to hospitalizations, even death, according to the CDC.
Available vaccines, according to the CDC include:
- Injectable flu shots made with inactivated influenza viruses or without the influenza viruses
- Live attenuated influenza vaccine, given by nasal spray
The CDC advises that most people who need one dose for the entire season, can get vaccinated in September or October. They recommend that, ideally, everyone gets vaccinated by the end of October for protection during peak flu season. Note: there are different vaccines approved for various age groups.
Dr. Rohatsch advises, “Apart from vaccinations, take basic precautions like washing your hands regularly, wearing a mask when sick or around crowds. Isolate when you begin to develop symptoms to help protect others around you.” Additionally, the Mayo Clinic advises keeping sick children home from school until their fever has been gone for 24 hours.
Why should I get the flu vaccine if I might still get the flu?
Some people may be wary of getting the flu vaccine if they received it in past years but still got the flu. Says Chris Chao, MD (President of the College of Urgent Care Medicine), “While the influenza vaccine does not 100% prevent a vaccinated individual from getting the flu, vaccinations have an important role in reducing the risk of severe disease and complications, especially in the high-risk populations. Studies show that flu vaccination may reduce the risk of secondary infections such as otitis media and pneumonia in children and decreases the risk of hospitalizations in high-risk populations.”
What to do if you have the flu?
If you or a loved one have the flu, there’s no need to panic. According to the Mayo Clinic, you will need to rest and drink plenty of fluids. Acetaminophen and other such over-the-counter pain relievers may help alleviate flu symptoms. If you suspect you have the flu, isolate to avoid spreading the virus to your loved ones and community.
Says Chris Chao, MD: “The CDC recommends use of antiviral medications (oseltamivir and baloxavir) for all high-risk individuals. Antiviral medications may modestly shorten the duration of symptoms, but in high-risk individuals, anti-viral therapy may reduce risk of progression to severe disease.”
If you would like immediate medical assistance, visit an urgent care center near you.
A doctor answers common flu questions
We asked Dr. Rob Rohatsch, MD to shed some light on frequently asked questions about the flu virus, flu shots, and more. Here are his responses.
Is the flu a virus?
Dr. Rob: Yes, but there’s more than one virus. In fact, there are 4 types of influenza viruses: influenza A, influenza B, influenza C, and influenza D.
How does the flu spread?
Dr. Rob: In humans, the flu spreads through respiratory droplets in the air when an infected person talks, coughs, or sneezes. The infection can also spread through contaminated objects. For example, if an infected child sneezes on their hands and touches a door handle, other children who touch that door handle are at risk of getting infected.
What influenza virus is circulating in the U.S. in 2022?
Dr: Rob: Based on the updated vaccines, it looks like various strains of the influenza A and influenza B viruses are currently in circulation.
Can you and your children get the flu shot and the COVID-19 vaccine or booster together?
Dr. Rob: Yes, the CDC notes that it is safe to get the flu shot and the COVID-19 vaccine or booster shot at the same time, if you and your kids are eligible.
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The views expressed by authors and contributors of such content are not endorsed or approved by Solv Health and are intended for informational purposes only. The content is reviewed by Solv Health only to confirm educational value and reader interest. You are encouraged to discuss any questions that you may have about your health with your healthcare provider.
Frequently asked questions
Why might the 2022 flu season be worse than previous years?The 2022 flu season may be worse due to the relaxation of COVID safety protocols such as mask wearing, social isolation, and avoiding crowds. These measures not only protected against COVID-19 but also against the influenza virus. As people return to their regular lives, the flu may return more strongly.
What is a 'twindemic' and why are experts worried about it?A 'twindemic' refers to a surge in both flu and COVID-19 cases. Experts are worried about this possibility as it could place a significant strain on healthcare systems and result in more severe health outcomes for individuals.
Who are the most vulnerable to severe flu symptoms?Young children, especially those under two years of age, and seniors aged 65 and older are most at risk of severe flu symptoms. This is due to their weaker immune systems and the potential for rapid virus spread in schools and assisted living facilities.
What precautions can we take to protect against the flu?To protect against the flu, consider getting a flu shot if you are eligible, as recommended by the CDC. Other precautions include washing your hands regularly, wearing a mask when sick or around crowds, and isolating when you begin to develop symptoms.
What are the benefits of getting the flu vaccine?While the flu vaccine does not 100% prevent a vaccinated individual from getting the flu, it plays a crucial role in reducing the risk of severe disease and complications, especially in high-risk populations. It may also reduce the risk of secondary infections and hospitalizations.
What should I do if I get the flu?If you get the flu, rest and drink plenty of fluids. Over-the-counter pain relievers may help alleviate symptoms. Isolate to avoid spreading the virus and consider seeking medical assistance if symptoms persist or worsen.
How does the flu spread?The flu spreads through respiratory droplets in the air when an infected person talks, coughs, or sneezes. It can also spread through contaminated objects.
Can I get the flu shot and the COVID-19 vaccine or booster at the same time?Yes, according to the CDC, it is safe to get the flu shot and the COVID-19 vaccine or booster shot at the same time, if you are eligible.
Solv has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
- Flu is expected to flare up in U.S. this winter, raising fears of a 'twindemic' (September 23, 2022)
- Australian Influenza Surveillance Report and Activity Updates (September 30, 2022)
- Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care, Australian Influenza Report, No. 11, 2022 (August 28, 2022)
- CDC Flu Season (September 20, 2022)
- CDC Fluview: Weekly US Map: Influenza Summary Update (October 7, 2022)
- CDC Who Needs a Flu Vaccine (September 13, 2022)
- Seasonal Incidence of Symptomatic Influenza in the United States, Clinical Infectious Diseases, Volume 66, Issue 10 (May 15, 2018)
- CDC Protect Against Flu: Caregivers of Infants and Young Children (September 21, 2022)
- CDC Guidance for School Administrators to Help Reduce the Spread of Seasonal Influenza in K-12 Schools (September 22, 2021)
- CDC Flu & People 65 Years and Older (August 25, 2022)
- FDA Influenza Vaccine for the 2022-2023 Season (July 6, 2022)
- Flu shot: Your best bet for avoiding influenza (September 10, 2022)
- CDC Frequently Asked Influenza (Flu) Questions: 2022-2023 Season (October 3, 2022)
- CDC JYNNEOS Vaccine (September 28, 2022)
- Influenza (Flu) (September 21, 2022)
- Expect a different flu season: Why you’ll want to be vaccinated for flu (August 23, 2022)