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Flu Season and Covid-19 Are About to Collide. Now What?

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Given testing delays, therapy selections might take some time—and that might imply extra days {that a} affected person occupies a hospital mattress, and probably an intensification of sickness that causes that affected person to want a yet-more-scarce ICU mattress as an alternative. “Labs are already at or near capacity for testing of respiratory specimens, and it’s going to be the same people, the same equipment, the same space, where flu testing will be conducted,” says Kelly Wroblewski, director of infectious illness packages on the Association of Public Health Laboratories.

Expanding testing capability to make room for flu prognosis isn’t only a matter of discovering extra swabs and tubes, and even personnel. It’s additionally a matter of the real-time PCR (polymerase chain response) readers the exams are carried out on; that provide chain is equally below pressure.

“Some of these instruments, especially the high-throughput ones, they’re big, the size of a car. And they’re expensive, a half-million dollars or more,” Wroblewski says. “There are not hundreds sitting in a warehouse ready to ship out. Right now, if a lab puts in an order, they’re probably not going to get it until January, or February, more realistically.”

Because of the anticipated hospital crunch, health authorities are leaning arduous on getting folks to take the flu shot. This isn’t any easy activity. Not solely is acceptance of the shot low throughout the inhabitants—it was taken by 45 % of adults within the 2018–19 season, in accordance to that JAMA evaluation, and solely 37 % the 12 months earlier than—however acceptance is even decrease amongst racial and ethnic minorities. That low vaccination fee arises from a posh set of causes: They embody folks having lower-paying jobs that don’t present flu shot packages, folks dwelling in neighborhoods that lack accessible clinics, or individuals who mistrust the US health care system’s therapy of minorities based mostly on long-remembered scandals such because the Tuskegee syphilis examine.

Whatever the explanation, it leaves the identical segments of the inhabitants susceptible to the flu who’ve already suffered the best charges of sickness and loss of life from Covid-19. That racial disparities exist with the patchwork of the pandemic is well-documented. The loss of life fee amongst Black US residents is twice that of white residents, and charges of hospitalization amongst Black and Hispanic residents and American Indians and Alaska Natives could be as a lot as 5 instances larger. Last month, the CDC discovered {that a} “high percentage” of circumstances that occurred in counties that have been Covid-19 sizzling spots happened in communities of colour. Flu would make that unfair burden worse.

“We need to focus, right now, on getting people vaccinated and reemphasizing masking, physical distancing, and handwashing,” says Georges Benjamin, a doctor and the chief director of the American Public Health Association. “We’d like to take the influenza problem off the table.”

Getting higher uptake in flu pictures would possibly accomplish a number of issues. A flu vaccine received’t stop Covid-19, in fact, as they’re brought on by totally different viruses. But it’ll cut back the variety of folks coming into hospitals with sicknesses that want to be sorted out, and it’ll reduce the prevalence of uncommon however serious circumstances during which somebody comes down with each sicknesses directly.

And the advantages of safety go each methods. Preventing flu would possibly make the Covid pandemic extra manageable, and stopping coronavirus transmission would possibly cut back the prevalence of flu as properly. “In South Africa this summer, flu cases went down, because of greater distancing and wearing of masks,” says Julia Swann, a professor of business and methods engineering at North Carolina State University, who consulted for the CDC throughout the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic. “That is possible for us, if people can remain vigilant.” It’s additionally doable which may occur inadvertently, she added: If sufficient universities or cities have to return into lockdown as Covid-19 spikes, the social distancing that follows may squelch the pandemic curve and the flu season on the similar time.

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