The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has issued a warning, saying that relaxed restrictions are set to result in a resurgence of influenza cases.
A combination of COVID-19 lockdowns, mask-wearing enforcement, and social distancing requirements throughout Europe helped to almost eradicate the flu last winter, experts said.
But now, the European organization has reported that the flu virus is spreading across the continent at a higher-than-expected rate, with cases in intensive care units rising at the end of December.
The spread of influenza across European continent sparks concerns about the risk of a prolonged ‘twindemic’, as the high COVID-19 transmission rate raises fears about the pressure on already overstretched European health systems.
Concerns have been exacerbated by the flu variant that has become dominant this season, as the H3 of the A virus usually causes severe cases of the illness among elderly patients, potentially impacting hospitalization rates.
Removing COVID-19 restrictions before the end of spring could see a prolonging of the twindemic with COVID-19 and influenza beyond May, according to the ECDC, putting extra pressure on health services that are already overstretched.
ECDC influenza expert, Pais Penttinen, expressed “big concern” about influenza as countries “start to lift all measures,” warning cases might “shift away from normal seasonal patterns.”
Six regional countries – Armenia, Belarus, Serbia, France, Georgia, and Estonia – have recorded seasonal influenza activity above the normal threshold in primary care. A further seven nations have recorded widespread influenza activity and/or medium flu intensity.
Amid the number of influenza cases, France has seen three regions already declare a flu epidemic, according to French Health Ministry data, with the department warning there “is still large room for improvement” in the uptake of flu shots to limit the impact of the virus.
The fears of a twindemic come amid reports of ‘flurona’, with an Israeli woman becoming the latest individual to be infected with Covid and flu simultaneously.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recently called for continued vigilance against Covid due to the spread of the Omicron strain providing a “huge amount of uncertainty.”
Addressing the situation, the WHO’s regional director for Europe, Dr. Hans Kluge, warned there is a “closing window of opportunity” to prevent health systems from being overwhelmed.