With current spike in respiratory illnesses, what could this year’s flu season look like?

North Carolina news

 RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — During the fall, doctors usually start gearing up for the annual flu season, but last year, the Centers for Disease Control reported unusually low influenza numbers. 

 An infectious disease professor and researcher at Duke University, Dr. Tony Moody said it’s likely that masks, social distancing, and other COVID-19 measures led to minimal flu cases last year.

“The fact that so many people were doing that out in the community means that we really cut down on the transmission of those viruses,” Moody said. 

But now, during a spike in COVID-19 cases, doctors are also seeing another respiratory illness increase in children — it’s called respiratory syncytial virus or RSV. 

RSV is usually seen in children during the winter months, coinciding with the flu season.

“I think part of the reason of why we saw this surge in the summertime is because everybody relaxed and suddenly we were like, ‘oh, COVID seems to be better let’s take our masks off,’” Moody said. 

But the increase in COVID-19 or RSV cases does not necessarily mean flu will spike this year as well.

“I expect that we will see flu cases,” Moody said. “I do not expect they were going to have a ‘normal flu’ season where we have waves of different influenza viruses coming through.”

Doctors often look at flu seasons in the Southern Hemisphere, like Australia, to help gauge what this year may look like.

So far, Australia’s health department is reporting historically low numbers of influenza-like illnesses.

Still, Dr. Moody said it’s difficult to predict what will happen during the U.S. flu season. 

“It’s hard to tell. Right? If the wave of delta (variant) comes down, if we get into a situation where people are opening back up again, we’re going to see flu come back. That’s just the nature of it, it will come back,” Moody said. 

He encourages people to get a flu shot as soon as possible to reduce the risk of serious illness or hospitalization.

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