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Flu And Covid: What Scientists And The Public Learned

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Flu And Covid: What Scientists And The Public Learned

(CTN News) – Flu And Covid: Throughout the preceding weeks, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’ plea had become a common refrain: if aggressive measures were taken, the Flu virus could be contained.

Covid and the flu differ in this regard, he said. In the case of seasonal, we don’t even discuss containment. I don’t think it’s possible,” he said.

Covid was declared a pandemic by the United Nations health agency just over a week later. Coronavirus spread to virtually every country on the globe.

But then something surprising happened: Flu transmission stopped. There was a way to contain the  virus, it turned out.

Over the past three years, Covid has helped scientists gain a better understanding of influenza. Research – as well as the public – have shifted their perspectives on the seasonal due to Covid’s eagle-eye focus.

It is possible to stop flu transmission

Despite Tedros’ message, the season of 2020-2021 — the first full season of the Covid pandemic — defied him. WHO’s global  tracking website  was virtually empty for the first time since 1997.

In that year, flu cases were zero, said Linsey Marr, a Virginia Tech professor of civil and environmental engineering. “We’ve learned that can be stopped.”

The exact reason for the unprecedented drop in cases that season is debated by researchers to some extent. Masks, avoiding travel and indoor gatherings, and frequent hand-washing were likely pandemic-related mitigation measures.

In that winter, Covid was the dominant virus, according to others.

Dr. Matthew Memoli, director of the Laboratory of Infectious Diseases’ clinical studies unit at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, explained that when you are exposed to a respiratory virus, your immune system produces an initial, nonspecific response.

Eventually, the body will produce virus-specific antibodies, but at that initial point, nonspecific antiviral responses can help reduce flu risk.

“You’re not vulnerable to other respiratory viruses like the flu at that point if you’re regularly exposed to Covid viruses,” he said.

Whether it was Covid’s dominance or behavioral changes contributing most to the nonexistent  season of 2020-2021 – and many credit both – the newfound knowledge that the flu can be stopped is here to stay.

The effectiveness of nonpharmaceutical interventions 

Before Covid, experts considered nonpharmaceutical – i.e., nonvaccine – approaches to preventing transmission to be of limited value.

In spite of the fact that behaviors such as hand washing, wearing masks, and air filtration were considered wise ideas, they weren’t deemed significant in stopping the spread.

Seema Lakdawala, an associate professor of microbiology and immunology at Emory University in Atlanta, said that vaccinations had been pushed prior to the pandemic. Now, we realize that vaccination is helpful, but additional measures can really reduce the public health burden of influenza.”

The effectiveness of these interventions had been measured in a handful of studies before 2020, but these were inconclusive.

We now have conclusive evidence that mitigation strategies like masking, social isolation, and staying at home when you are sick can drastically reduce influenza virus transmission, she said.

Vaccination rates for influenza remain fairly consistent, supporting this newfound appreciation for nonpharmacological interventions.

In the 2020-2021 season, Lakdawala did not think the amount of vaccine uptake was drastically higher. She said it was always around 40% to 60%, and that vaccine immunity was not the primary reason for the drop in flu transmission.

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