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  • Last year’s flu season was historically inactive, but some experts fear that the flu could make a come back just like other respiratory viruses, such as RSV, have this year.
  • While there have been cases of the flu, activity doesn’t typically pick up until late November.
  • New Mexico and the District of Columbia are reporting moderate flu activity.

As pandemic restrictions are relaxed and society continues to open back up, many infectious diseases specialists have their eyes on the flu.

Last year’s flu season was historically inactive, but some experts fear that the flu could make a come back just like other respiratory viruses, such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), have this year.

So far, flu activity remains low across the country. But that’s on par with how flu season would behave at this point in the year before the pandemic hit.

While there have been cases of the flu, activity doesn’t typically pick up until late November.

“It’s still early days. What you’ve seen out there is what we usually see — just a little bit of scattered influenza activity, ” Dr. William Schaffner, infectious disease expert and professor in the division of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, told Healthline.

What strains are going around

According to data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), both influenza A and influenza B strains have been circulating, though at low levels.

Currently, New Mexico and the District of Columbia reported moderate flu activity, and all other states are reporting low or minimal flu activity.

Dr. Marie-Louise Landry, the director of the Clinical Virology Laboratory and professor at Yale School of Medicine, says her lab in Connecticut has already seen several positive tests for flu — most of which occurred in pediatric patients.

According to Schaffner, this year’s flu shot appears to be a good match against the circulating strains.

“The few influenza strains that have been sent to the laboratory are traditional influenza strains — both influenza A and influenza B — that are represented in the vaccine,” Schaffner said.

No unusual strains have been identified at this point.

Will the flu make a comeback?

It’s impossible to predict exactly how this year’s flu season will go down.

“Now that behavior is changing across the world and more things are reopening, there is a chance that the flu will return, although it is hard to predict exactly what will happen and when,” says Dr. Ellen Foxman, a Yale Medicine laboratory medicine physician, assistant professor, and immunobiologist at Yale School of Medicine.

The Southern Hemisphere just experienced another mild flu season. During their flu season, which runs from April to September, no new, rogue flu strains were detected.

Typically, influenza activity in the Southern Hemisphere gives us an idea of what the Northern Hemisphere’s flu season will be like, but due to variations in COVID-related safety protocols, that may not be the case this year.

Many areas in the Southern Hemisphere, like Australia, were still adhering to strict interventions, such as masking and physical distancing, throughout their flu season.

Up north, however, many of these precautions have been relaxed in certain areas.

“As we loosen those restrictions, we will likely see more flu,” Landry said.

Flu activity is currently low, but that’s what health experts usually expect to see this time of year.

“By and large, October and early November are still pretty quiet with flu. But as every day in November goes on, we get a little bit more flu activity,” Schaffner said.

Get your flu shot — it works

Schaffner says that healthcare providers have had to put more effort into promoting the flu shot this year.

People have vaccine fatigue, and many are tired of hearing about respiratory viruses.

“It’s almost as if we had to reintroduce everyone to influenza this year and remind them there is a flu vaccine distinct from COVID [vaccination],” Schaffner said.

If flu does come back, which many health experts expect to happen to a degree, the flu shot is a safe, effective way to protect yourself from the flu and reduce the duration and severity of illness if you do get sick.

“Right now is the time when everyone should get their flu shot, so that they will be protected against the flu for the upcoming winter season,” Foxman said.

The bottom line

Flu activity is currently low across the country, but that’s what flu experts expect to see this time of year.

Even though the Southern Hemisphere saw another mild flu season, the flu may make a comeback in the Northern Hemisphere, where COVID-related precautions, like masking and distancing, have been phased out.

Flu experts expect to see more flu activity this year — especially as the weather gets colder and we head indoors — but if and when that might happen remains to be seen.

 



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