Sunday 19 July 2020

Day 125 of self-isolation - flu season

Flu season

Every year, influenza comes round, from October to May. I'd be surprised if the coming autumn/winter is an exception. What causes this annual resurgence?

    Flu (like Covid-19) is spread from person to person, and in the cold weather, people are more huddled indoors, windows closed

    These viruses are killed by UV light, and there is less UV in autumn/winter

    Viruses last longer in cold conditions than hot, so they'll last longer on surfaces and in the air

    Lack of vitamin D affects the immune system, and most people get most of their vitamin D from the action of sunshine on skin. There's less sunshine in autumn/winter

On the other hand - all the measures that people are taking against Covid-19; distancing, masking and hand hygiene are also effective against flu. Also, we have a vaccine for flu each year. Of course, those people who sneer at precautions will continue to attend Covid-19 parties, and will soon be able to attend influenza parties too.

Each year, there's a new version of flu. Flu mutates a lot, and the vaccine for last year's flu, will be much less effective against this year's flu - that's why flu vaccinations have to be repeated each year.

Flu isn't trivial, as anyone who has had it will tell you. It's not like a common cold only a bit worse. Flu kills. There's no knowing what the next flu season will bring, but in America alone, we can expect between 140 thousand to a million hospitalisations, and from 12 to 60 thousand deaths. For comparison, Covid-19 has led to 140 thousand deaths in the last five months.

And the flu burden is on top of the Covid-19 burden.

Those countries who have got the cases of Covid-19 down to manageable levels, and are now opened up (or opening soon) must expect a rise in Covid-19 at the same time as the flu season.

Those countries who have failed to control Covid-19, will soon (three months time) start seeing the rise in seasonal flu, in addition to Covid-19. But there's also the threat of people getting both diseases.

I had flu once. It really knocks you out; I could barely stagger to the toilet, and spent my time sleeping. I recovered, as most people do, but I don't know how the human body would cope with dealing with both at once.

Fortunately, there is a vaccine for flu each year, and although it isn't 100% effective, I have never had any negative effects from the vaccine, and if it reduces my odds of getting flu by 50%, I'll take it, gladly. In the UK that vaccine is free for many, �13 for most - you can get it at many pharmacies. It's similar in the USA.

I'm also hoping that by October, the Oxford University vaccine against Covid-19 will be available to everyone in the UK (and many other countries, because they're aiming to make a least a billion doses) who wants it, and it looks like only 16% of Brits will refuse.

The situation in the USA will be far worse, of course; mask refusal, distancing refusal and vaccine refusal will add up to a huge experiment in what happens when most of a country rejects the advice and benefits of science. The outcome will be an awful warning to the rest of the world.

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