Europe faces threat of protracted ‘Twindemic’ as flu returns amid surging Covid-19 cases

Europe faces threat of protracted 'Twindemic' as flu returns amid surging Covid-19 cases

Europe faces threat of protracted ‘Twindemic’ as flu returns amid surging Covid-19 cases

New Delhi: Influenza has returned to Europe at a faster-than-expected rate this winter after nearly disappearing last year, raising concerns about a prolonged ‘twin demic’ with COVID-19 amid some doubts about effectiveness of influenza vaccines.

The lockdowns, mask-wearing and social distancing that have become the norm in Europe during the COVID-19 pandemic ended the flu last winter, temporarily eradicating a virus that kills an estimated 650,000 people a year worldwide. world, according to EU figures.  But that has now changed as countries adopt less stringent measures to combat COVID-19 due to widespread vaccination.

What is Twindemic?

Twindemic refers to the possibility of a severe flu season occurring alongside an increase in COVID-19 cases and its consequence may be a mixture of two different infections in the same person at the same time.

Since mid-December, flu viruses have been circulating in Europe at a higher rate than expected, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) reported this month.

In December, the number of flu cases in European intensive care units (ICUs) rose steadily to a high of 43 in the last week of the year, ECDC and World Health Organization data show.

That’s well below pre-pandemic levels: For example, weekly flu cases in ICUs peaked at more than 400 at the same stage in 2018. But it’s a big increase from last year, when There was only one case of the flu in an ICU in all of December, the data shows.

The return of the virus could be the start of an unusually long flu season that could stretch well into summer, ECDC’s top influenza expert Pasi Penttinen told Reuters.

“If we start to lift all the measures, the big concern I have about influenza is that because we’ve had so long without circulation in the European population, we may move away from the normal seasonal patterns,” he said.

He said that the unwinding of restrictive measures in the spring could prolong flu circulation well beyond the normal end of the European season in May.

A “twindemic” could put undue pressure on already overburdened health systems, the ECDC said in its report.

In France, three regions, including the Paris region, are facing a flu epidemic, according to data published by the French Ministry of Health last week.  Others are in a pre-epidemic phase.

This season, France has so far recorded 72 serious cases of the flu, with six deaths.

Dominant strain – Twindemic

To further complicate matters, the dominant flu strain circulating this year so far appears to be the H3 A virus, which tends to cause the most severe cases among the elderly.

Penttinen said it was too early to make a final evaluation of flu shots because larger numbers of sick patients were needed for real-world analyses.  But laboratory tests show that the vaccines available this year are “not going to be optimal” against H3.

This is largely because there was little or no virus circulating when the composition of vaccines was decided last year, making it more difficult for vaccine manufacturers to predict which strain would be dominant in the coming flu season.

Vaccines Europe, which represents the major vaccine manufacturers in the region, acknowledged that strain selection was made more difficult by the very low circulation of influenza last year, but added that there was not yet enough data to assess the effectiveness of this season’s vaccines.

Influenza vaccines are adapted each year to be as effective as possible against flu viruses that are constantly changing.  Its composition is decided six months before the flu season begins, based on the circulation of viruses in the opposite hemisphere.  That buys time for drugmakers to develop and make the injections.

Europe-wide data on flu vaccine uptake is not yet available.  But national figures from France show coverage is not as extensive as authorities had hoped.

Authorities there extended the vaccination period by one month to the end of February to boost inoculations.  According to figures published last week, 12 million people have been vaccinated so far, about 45% of the target population.

“There is still a large room for improvement to limit the impact of the flu epidemic,” the Health Ministry said in a statement on Jan. 11.  This year’s goal is to vaccinate 75% of people at risk.

Vaccines Europe said the industry had supplied a large number of flu vaccines, despite pressure on production facilities posed by the pandemic.

Source: Zee News

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