Could This Flu Season Be Worse Than Normal?
When I couldn't warm up Thursday afternoon with a bad case of the chills, I knew I didn't feel right. So I packed it in a couple of hours early to go home and just wrap myself up like a burrito in bed. I figured it was the after-effects of my Covid-19 booster that my doctor wanted me to get. Then my boss Craig piped up that there seemed to be flu going around Sedalia. So maybe it was that. So my question is, could this flu season be worse than it normally is?
Apparently yes. A quick Google search of that question yielded a variety of articles. "So far, this flu season is more severe than it has been in 13 years" screamed The Washington Post headline. CNN, in a story imploring us to all get our flu shots, told me in a headline, "Flu season in the US hasn't been this bad this early in more than a decade." Not to mention Forbes says, "Experts Are Predicting A Bad Flu Season. Here's Why They Might Be Wrong."
At least that's a little good news, the experts might be wrong. By the way, this Forbes article is about three weeks old at this point. The piece written by John Drake, a scientist, and professor for the Odum School of Ecology says there are three misconceptions about why this season might be bad: One, recent flu seasons mean most of us are more susceptible to the flu. Two, the relaxation of Covid-19 measures means seasonal flu will rebound. Three, A bad flu season in the Southern Hemisphere means it'll be bad here.
Drake says that immunity to the flu isn't all that durable, and the flu virus is always changing. So it's not like if we got the flu last year, we won't get it this year. Second, Drake acknowledges masking and distancing did help the U.S. have a couple of easy seasons with the flu. Yet, there's no indication NOT doing that this fall and winter will mean a worse flu season than we normally had pre-pandemic. Finally, he thinks there needs to be more research put behind the theory that a bad flu season in the Southern Hemisphere means a bad flu season for us. There's a weak connection, but it's not a rock-solid fact.
The CDC reports for the week ending October 29, 2022, "Early increases in seasonal influenza activity continue nationwide. The southeastern and south-central areas of the country are reporting the highest levels of activity followed by the Mid-Atlantic and the south-central West Coast regions." In a report released in mid-October, The CDC says, "While flu activity is relatively low overall, there are early increases happening in most of the country."
At least it doesn't seem to have hit the Midwest yet, although my boss Craig reports several people that were supposed to attend a business get-together he attended the other night ended up calling in sick with the flu.
The Washington Post article says "The flu is hitting the United States unusually early and hard, resulting in the most hospitalizations at this point in the season in more than a decade." They go on to assert, perhaps, it could be a tough winter for respiratory viruses. The CNN article pretty much covers some of the same information, that flu hospitalizations are worse than usual for this time of year.
Yet none of this actually points to a worse flu season than normal. Sure, we're having an early flu season that's worse than usual, but that's right NOW, not next week, next month, or later in the winter. If there's one thing COVID-19 should have taught us, the experts don't know everything. They're smart, and they can offer good advice on how to stay healthy, but they don't have a crystal ball.
We won't really know how bad the flu season is this year until we all go through it. As for me, I'm not even sure if I'm dealing with a little bit of whatever's floating around Sedalia or the after-effects of my COVID-19 booster. I don't feel 100%, but I don't feel any worse now than I did this morning either. Anyway, I'll ponder that more tomorrow morning if I still don't feel well.
The best way to end this is with a quote from John Drake in his Forbes piece, "I’m not saying that the upcoming flu season will be mild. I’m merely saying that we don’t know."