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Public-health experts say this year's flu season could result in 3 times as many hospitalizations as usual, further straining medical resources

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Flu season
A medical assistant at the Sea Mar Community Health Center giving a patient a flu shot in Seattle. Ted S. Warren/AP Photo

A team of public-health experts predict this year's flu season could result in three times as many hospitalizations as a normal year, putting a further strain on the healthcare system during the coronavirus pandemic, NBC News reported.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the US has had 9.3 million to 45 million flu illnesses a year since 2010, and its most recent estimates indicate the country averages more than 200,000 flu hospitalizations a year.

Many public-health officials were expecting a "twindemic" last winter - with severe coronavirus infections stacking on top of the regularly recurring flu hospitalizations - but only 155 Americans were found to be hospitalized for influenza from October 1 to January 30, the peak of flu season. That's in comparison with 8,633 Americans found to be hospitalized with the flu during the same time frame the year prior.

It then seemed clear that COVID-19 preventive measures like mask-wearing and social distancing had brought down flu cases as well. But some are now worried the drop in cases could mean a rebound this year.

"The possibility of a 'twindemic' is pretty real this year," Brian Dixon, the director of public-health informatics at the Regenstrief Institute, told WTHR.

In two new non-peer-reviewed study preprints, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health estimated that there could be at least 20% more flu cases this year compared with a normal year or, in a worst-case scenario, double the cases.

Hospitalizations could total 600,000, or threefold their normal number, the analysis found.

Dr. Mark Roberts, director of the Public Health Dynamics Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, said in a press release that as COVID-19 measures were relaxed, the flu and other respiratory illnesses would resurge.

He added, however, that higher flu-vaccination rates could help ease hospitalizations.

"In a worst-case situation with a highly transmissible flu strain dominating and low influenza vaccination uptake, our predictive models indicate the potential for up to nearly half a million more flu hospitalizations this winter, compared to a normal flu season," he said. "Vaccinating as many people against flu as possible will be key to avoiding this scenario."

The university's analysis suggests that 75% of Americans would need to get a flu shot to avoid this worst-case scenario. In the 2019-2020 flu season, 51.8% of Americans got a flu vaccine, the CDC reported.

David Kimberlin, the codirector of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, told NBC News he'd already seen kids enter the hospital this summer for respiratory illnesses normally seen in the winter, like the respiratory syncytial virus; croup; and hand, foot, and mouth disease.

Dr. Sean O'Leary, an infectious-disease physician at Children's Hospital Colorado, told NBC News in July that there wasn't a clear-cut explanation as to why these respiratory ailments were spreading in the summer but said one reason could be the loosening of social-distancing guidelines and mask-wearing.

"There is a lot more mixing among people than there had been," he said.

Kimberlin told the outlet his hospital was overrun by the Delta coronavirus variant and warned that adding a rise in flu cases to the mix had "the potential to be catastrophic."

CDC numbers indicate the US averaged more than 87,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations over the past week. Hospitals in some states, especially those with low vaccination rates, are at or close to full capacity.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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