By Mary Hearty

As the world is approaching another winter season, health experts have announced that COVID-19 pandemic testing infrastructure is likely to be overwhelmed due to the anticipated Influenza disease.

This is for the reason that both Influenza and COVID-19 are acute viral respiratory diseases that are very similar in terms of how they present themselves clinically.

The two infectious diseases are often characterized by fever, headache, myalgia, sore throat and cough, and are transmitted through respiratory droplets or contact.

“Influenza may put an increased burden on COVID-19 testing infrastructure which has already been a little stressed to the limits,” Dr. Andrew Pekosz, virologist, professor and vice-chair of the Department of Molecular Microbiology & Immunology, and co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center said during a virtual media briefing hosted by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“This is because individuals suffering from Influenza may think they are infected with COVID-19 and search out for tests for COVID-19 with their healthcare providers. Also, this may cause some people to not seek out COVID-19 tests because they simply think they are having the flu, when in fact they are suffering from COVID-19.”

The two diseases also have a very similar high risk group: the elderly, those with secondary diseases such as cardiovascular, high body mass index (BMI) among others.

Influenza is a significant public health issue on the healthcare system every year. Therefore, minimizing these cases will help in dealing with a surge of COVID-19 cases which is likely to be encountered this coming winter.

Fortunately, there is positive signs in relation to Influenza cases this year. The Southern hemisphere just finished their winter season and very few cases of the flu were reported.

“This may have something to do with social distancing and other public health interventions that were put in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this does not diminish the need to go get an Influenza vaccination to try to limit it in the Northern hemisphere,” Dr Pekosz explained.

Unlike COVID-19, Influenza vaccines are available and safe and their efficiency can vary from year to year. It is very clear that vaccinations protect from infections and can reduce deaths.

Dr Daniel Salmon, Director of the Institute for Vaccine Safety at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who also attended the meeting advised that now is the time people need to have flu vaccinations as there is potential to see many people experience flu more than ever.

Dr Salmon highlighted some of the interventions that need to be implemented in order to minimize the flu cases.

“We need to have clear and consistent messaging, community campaign, and find safe sides for vaccination for instance, pharmacies are great places for vaccination. Also, we need healthcare providers to really speak about the value of flu vaccine provided every year,” he said.

It is yet to be known what happens when one contacts both Influenza and COVID-19. However, it is important to pay attention to these co-infections and monitor them carefully.