Prolonged ‘Twindemic’ Threatens Europe as Flu Returns

After it almost disappeared last year in Europe being knocked out by the COVID-19 pandemic, influenza, the virus that globally kills about 650,000 a year, is now returning with galloping speed in the EU, raising fears of a potential prolonged “twindemic” on top of the emerging doubts about the flu vaccines’ effectiveness.

Last year’s ‘eradication’ of flu was most likely a result of the lockdowns, mask-wearing, and social distancing that have become the norm in Europe during the COVID pandemic, but those measures relaxed after the widespread vaccination, opening the gate again for the flu to return.

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s (ECDC) report earlier this month, flu viruses have started circulating in Europe at a higher-than-expected rate since mid-December, when, according to ECDC and World Health Organization’s data, the European intensive care units (ICU) have seen an increased number of flu cases that peaked at 43 in the last days of December.

Although it’s quite below the pre-pandemic peak levels – over 400 cases at some stage in 2018 – this increase in flu cases is significant considering the ICE has seen only one flu case in December of last year.

ECDC’s top expert on influenza, Pasi Penttinen, has warned that the return of the flu amid relaxed measures and after a ‘very quiet’ season will shift away from normal seasonal patterns and might be the start of an unusually long flu season that might not end in May, the normal end of the European flu season.

Penttinen believes that if restrictive measures are removed in the spring, that could prolong flu circulation well into the summer, and in combination with COVID, that “twindemic” could overburden the already overstretched health systems.

To further complicate the already serious situation, this year’s dominant flu strain so far appears to be the H3 of the A virus, which usually causes the most severe cases among the elderly and the flu jabs available will not be optimal against it.

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