As mask mandates and social distancing signs go by the wayside after two years of rampant COVID-19 infections, doctors now fear a ‘twindemic' due to expected robust flu and COVID-19 breakouts this winter.
"The term ‘twindemic’ implies that, that there is both of these viruses circulating in the community. There is influenza which we see every year. And unfortunately, now we're seeing COVID-19 infections every year as well," Epidemiologist Thomas Duszynski told FOX Weather Wednesday. "So this idea that they're both going to maybe surge over the winter months, that's why we're calling this a twindemic."
He said getting both the flu and COVID-19 at the same time is a low probability, but "either way, both represent a serious disease and potential for hospitalizations and, unfortunately, deaths."
Why doctors expect a resurgence of flu
CDC data shows that flu incidents have been minimal over the past two years. Social distancing, masks, canceling family holidays and avoiding crowds went a long way in keeping the spread of influenza in check.
He said with fewer people being exposed to influenza, fewer people built up natural immunity too. And the CDC reported that fewer people got flu shots.
"We anticipate normal flu season, which can be anywhere between 4,000 to 36,000 deaths in the U.S.," said Duszynski.
Some scientists point to the surge of flu cases in Australia during their winter, which is summer in the U.S., as foreshadowing the North American influenza season. This has been the worst flu season for Australia and New Zealand in five years, wrote the associate chief medical officer at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles on the hospital’s website.
COVID-19 cases on the rise
COVID-19 infections are on the rise across Europe. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control observed widespread increases in cases and deaths in their latest weekly overview. This is the third week of increased cases for ages 65 and over, with numbers being up by 33% just in the past week.
While the risk of getting both simultaneously is low, the chances are higher of contracting one virus while recovering from the other.
"A lot of times what will happen is, if you are infected with one, your body is already in a weakened state where you're immunocompromised," Duszynski explained. "That puts you at greater risk that you can get something else which can then just sort of snowball and take a little bit longer for you to recover than that."
Strep, the common cold and Norwalk virus are just a few of the other viruses that doctors start to see during the winter months. Cutting down the severity is key, most doctors agree.
"Now is the time to get your flu shot," Dr. Janette Nesheiwat told FOX Weather. "If I have 2 patients who both have influenza, one of them is vaccinated, one of them is not. The one that is vaccinated, they didn’t have the fever and the body aches, but they had some sniffles, runny nose and a sore throat."
Time is running out, as the CDC recommends that everyone over the age of 6-months get a flu shot by the end of October.
Don’t wait to test and talk to your doctor if you have symptoms, Nesheiwat added.
"The good thing is if you have any symptoms, you can go and get tested," said Nesheiwat. "We have tests to check for the flu, to check for strep, to check for COVID-19. And we've got treatments for all of them as well."
Doctors continue to urge people to wash their hands, sanitize surfaces, get plenty of rest and exercise and eat well to keep their immune system in shape to hopefully dodge the bugs.