Infectiologists expect a violent flu wave to break out in the cooler season. As an antidote, they recommend broader flu shots.
Since the population was less able to immunize itself, infectiologists believe an influenza pandemic in winter is possible.
An infectiologist calls for a federal campaign to promote flu vaccination.
The Federal Office of Public Health waves it away.
Hardly anyone was in bed with a fever and bronchitis: The hygiene measures of the corona pandemic blocked the flu viruses. This was also evident in the level of immortality, which was partly explained by the lack of flu. But the influenza viruses could strike even more violently after the end of the protective measures.
Mathias Pletz, director of the Institute for Infection Medicine and Hospital Hygiene at Jena University Hospital, expects serious post-pandemic RSV and influenza epidemics in the German “Ärztezeitung”. Viruses for acute diseases of the upper and lower respiratory tract, so-called RS viruses, as well as influenza viruses have disappeared in the pandemic, he says. As a result of the hygiene measures, the population did not experience any “boost” in dealing with these pathogens.
Immunity weakened in the long run
An American study feeds the same fears. Using laboratory monitoring data from 2020, the researchers estimate that the transmission of RSV viruses in the United States decreased by at least 20 percent when hygiene measures began.
Since the hygiene measures weakened people’s immunity in the long run, they believe, based on an epidemiological simulation model, a violent flu epidemic in the coming winter season is likely. To prevent a flu epidemic, the Standing Vaccination Commission of the German Robert Koch Institute recommends a high-dose vaccine against the flu for people over 60.
“High flu vaccination quota would be ideal”
Huldrych Günthard, infectiologist at the University Hospital Zurich, also believes an influenza pandemic in winter is possible. Due to the hygiene measures, people were no longer exposed to the influenza viruses in the last season, says Günthard. As a result, however, they could neither develop nor refresh their defenses.
“In a strong flu epidemic, older people and people at risk are at higher risk of suffering a severe course,” says the infectiologist. He therefore recommends that people over 60 be vaccinated against the flu in the coming winter season. Usually the vaccination readiness is low in this age group. “A high flu vaccination rate of 60 to 70 percent for high-risk patients and older people would be ideal.”
According to the information platform for vaccination issues (Infovac), flu vaccines contain the surface proteins of three or four virus strains that are expected to be in circulation in Switzerland in winter. Completely new flu viruses are rare, says infectiologist Huldrych Günthard. As a rule, the viruses are slightly mutated. As a rule, there is a certain partial immunity to this.
“An intense wave of puffs would be possible”
In addition to the influenza viruses, there were hardly any cold viruses in the pandemic, according to Günthard. “For example, I have never had a cold for so long in my entire life.” In autumn and winter, many people could therefore become infected with such viruses. “An intense wave of puffs would be possible.” A lot of people could then get a cold in one fell swoop.
Since rhino viruses do not mutate dangerously, Günthard regards a Pfnüsel epidemic as harmless for the general public. “People who are immunocompromised, for example, should still be more careful, as they can catch more pathogens and processes with reduced immunity could possibly be more difficult.”
BAG must launch a flu vaccination campaign
Politicians are also already dealing with the cold season. On average, up to 2,500 people per season would die of the flu in Switzerland, and several thousand would have to be hospitalized, says center national councilor Philipp Matthias Bregy. “If the flu is even worse, the risk of hospital admissions and death increases.”
The Federal Office of Public Health (BAG) must prepare for this scenario and launch a campaign to promote flu vaccination, says Bregy. “Another possibility, as I have already asked, would be to check out free flu vaccinations.”
Immune system is robust enough
SVP National Councilor Roland Rino Büchel also considers a violent flu wave to be quite likely. Rolling out an influenza vaccination campaign, however, is unnecessary. “Otherwise one can only hope that the citizen will still be able to lead a life between all vaccination appointments,” he scoffs.
Büchel is convinced that the immune system of most people is robust enough to withstand a violent wave of influenza. “It mustn’t get to the point where we only believe in our health if we’ve had something injected into us.” With a broader flu vaccination, as with the Covid vaccination, the pharmaceutical industry will primarily benefit. The BAG also sees no need for action. As in previous years, there is no actual “flu vaccination campaign”, says BAG spokesman Yann Hulmann (see box).
Mr. Hulmann *, is there a threat of a serious influenza epidemic in winter?
No. We currently do not share such a fear that the flu epidemic in winter 2021/22 will be unusually strong.
On average, adults only get influenza every ten years, children on average only once every five years. The flu should not be confused with the common, often banal, cold viruses. A negative effect on the population’s immunity to influenza viruses would only be noticed if the flu were to be absent for five or ten years. In addition, the flu epidemic in winter 2020/21 was a “positive side effect” of the Covid measures practically everywhere in the world.
What do you mean?
Since fewer people were infected, the influenza viruses were also able to mutate much less, that is, develop fewer different virus strains. We therefore expect a relatively normal flu epidemic in Europe and Switzerland if the Covid measures are discontinued until autumn and in winter.
* Yann Hulmann is media spokesman for the BAG.
As a member, you become part of the 20-minute community and benefit from great benefits and exclusive competitions every day!