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Having flu at the same time as COVID doubles death risk — UK Health Security Agency

People who catch flu and COVID at the same time are twice as likely to die than those who only have coronavirus, found a Public Health England analysis in The BMJ. UK Health Security Agency chief executive, Dr Jenny Harries, has warned of an “uncertain” winter, with both flu and COVID-19 circulating for the first time, and urged people to take up both the coronavirus and flu jabs.

Asked how worried the public should be about flu this winter, she told Skyʼs Trevor Phillips On Sunday: “We should be worried about flu each winter. I think people still donʼt realise it can be a fatal disease. But the important thing about this winter is we are likely to see flu, for the first time in any real numbers, co-circulating with COVID. So the risks of catching both together still remain. And if you do that, then early evidence suggests you are twice as likely to die from having the two at once than just having COVID alone.

“Itʼs an uncertain winter ahead, but we do know that flu cases have been lower in the previous year so immunity and the strain types are a little more uncertain,” she said.

The Guardian reports that Harries also warned that the UK could have a multi-strain flu this year, with lowered immunity, as last yearʼs COVID restrictions meant that levels of the virus were extremely low.

She said that on average, about 11,000 people die from flu each year, adds The Guardian report. “The difference here is because we have, if you like, skipped a year almost with flu, itʼs possible we might see multi-strain flu – we usually get one strain predominating.”

Harries said there are four strains of virus in this yearʼs flu vaccine, after taking advice from the World Health Organization (WHO), the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) and looking to countries in the southern hemisphere, where winter and therefore flu season arrives earlier.

“So weʼve got a pretty good array in our toolbox to attack whichever one becomes dominant but it could be more than one this year, and peopleʼs immunity will be lower. I think the real trick is to get vaccinated for both COVID and flu, but obviously to continue to do those good hygiene behaviours.”

Making children wear masks in school would not be at the top of her list, she added.
“The important thing is we should make sure children arenʼt in school if they are actually infectious. Weʼve got a very good testing programme and we know that at the start of the term we expected to see a surge in cases”, she told the BBCʼs The Andrew Marr Show.

Harries also said the dominance of the Delta variant globally has caused other coronavirus variants to “become extinct”, but warned we still need to “stay alert”.

The NHS aims to immunise a record 35 million people this winter, the most ambitious programme of flu jabs in its history. Free flu shots are available for about 30 million frontline health and social care workers, people aged 50 and over, children up to school year 11, those who are pregnant and those at clinical risk.

 

The Guardian article – Getting flu with Covid doubles risk of death, says UK health chief (Open access)

 

See more from MedicalBrief archives:

 

Vaccination successes mustn't overshadow the massive failures — Peter Piot

 

Influenza pandemic one of 10 global threats in WHO's 5-year plan

 

Flu injection lowers mortality risk in people with heart failure

 

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