Flu: Experts warn of dangerous virus variant
Updated: 2022-01-19, 2:29 PM
| Reading time: 5 minutes
The influenza seemed almost gone. Experts are now warning of a particularly severe flu season. Is a twin epidemic looming?
- In addition to the corona pandemic, there could also be many flu sufferers this year
- According to experts, a more dangerous variant has been discovered
- Vaccines therefore do not work as well as assumed
The current Corona numbers give enough cause for concern. Against this background, another message makes you sit up and take notice: The Influenza is back. Spread this winter flu viruses faster than expected, warns the EU disease control agency European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) in a report. Among them is a variant that could be particularly dangerous. Will this lead to a twin epidemic – Covid-19 and influenza?
Even in the past Winter was the common flu, which according to the World Health Organization (WHO) normally around 650,000 people per year worldwide succumb, hardly made an appearance. This was also due to the Corona measures: Lockdowns, masks and social distancing also kept the flu virus down.
Why the corona measures are now strengthening the flu virus
This year the situation is different. On the one hand, this is because the Corona measures recently turned out to be less strict. Mathias Pletz from the Jena University Hospital had already pointed out another reason in the summer of 2021 at the digital congress of the German Society for Pneumology and Respiratory Medicine (DGP): The population did not have a “boost” in dealing with the corona measures influenza pathogens Experienced.
Researchers from the USA had already modeled historical data in 2020 and found that a season with very low influenza infection numbers can significantly increase the susceptibility of the population in subsequent years. Current developments seem to confirm this.
Winter season: Number of influenza cases increases significantly
Since mid-December, the number of flu cases in Europe – including the severe ones, reports the ECDC. In the last week of December 2021, hospitals in Europe 43 influenza intensive care patients treated. In the particularly severe flu season of 2018, there were at times more than 400 intensive care patients per week. But in all of December 2020, there was only one flu case on a intensive care unit before.
for Germany reported that Robert Koch Institute (RKI) 151 confirmed cases of influenza in the first week of January. That also sounds small at first. However, not a single case was reported in the same period last year.
Will the flu season last into the summer this time?
According to ECDC information, the flu season could not be in the May end, but up to the summer 2022 – and thus unusually long. The EU epidemic authority warns against lifting the corona measures. This could detach the influenza from its usual seasonal pattern, since “the virus has hardly circulated in the European population for so long”.
If the corona measures are further reduced in the coming weeks and months, the influenza pathogen could spread longer. Then a “twin epidemic” threatens, according to the ECDC in its report. Influenza and Covid-19 could those already heavily burdened healthcare systems continue to put pressure on. A scenario that is not far away.
Doubts about the effectiveness of the vaccines
In the neighboring country France the flu epidemic has already arrived. The capital Paris and their surrounding area as well as two other regions are already affected, according to the French Ministry of Health, influenza is expected in others. France has reported a total of 72 severe cases of flu and six deaths from influenza this season.
Another problem arises: According to preliminary results, this year is the Virus strain H3 of the alpha genus the dominant. This strain of virus triggers most severe cases among the elderly. According to ECDC information, no final assessment can be given, but initial laboratory tests have shown that the available this season vaccines H3 “not optimal” could fight. So there may be one missing effective protection against influenza.
27 million vaccine doses are available in Germany
Here, too, the extensive absence of influenza viruses in the past year is decisive: The vaccine producers could hardly foresee the dominant strands for the production of the vaccine. The European Manufacturers Association Vaccines Europe has confirmed this, but did not want to make any statement about the effectiveness of the vaccines.
Influenza viruses mutate particularly frequently, which is why the vaccines against them are adapted annually. The decision is usually made half a year before the usual start of the flu season. However, no one could have foreseen that the H3 virus strain would prevail.
Read more: Corona and flu vaccination: That’s the right distance
Nevertheless, vaccination remains the best way to protect yourself from a serious illness. According to the Minister of Health at the time Jens Spahn (CDU) around 27 million doses of vaccine were made available at the start of the flu season. That’s five million more doses than were vaccinated in 2020.