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Could the 2022/2023 Flu Be Worse Than Past Years?

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What to Expect From the Flu in 2022/2023

By Michele Eggers, senior quality care coordinator at Network Health

Remember the flu? Before COVID-19, flu season was public enemy No. 1 in terms of widely contagious diseases with the potential to infect millions of people in a single year. Despite the COVID pandemic taking the focus off influenza for a couple years, we’re sorry to say that the flu hasn’t gone anywhere.

Like any other year, the flu season will be back for 2022/2023. The first year of the COVID pandemic saw many people maintaining quarantines, working or attending school from home, and wearing masks. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this likely had an impact on the spread of the seasonal flu virus in 2020/2021, as only 0.2% of respiratory specimens tested in U.S. clinical laboratories came back positive for the influenza virus. The CDC also attributes that low number to a record number of influenza vaccine doses distributed across the U.S. during that flu season.

Indeed, influenza activity has been lower since SARS-CoV-2 emerged in the United States in 2020 than it was before the pandemic, likely due in part to COVID-19 precautions. However, these precautions have since relaxed, and as we look ahead to the upcoming flu season, we can get a glimpse of our potential future by looking to the other side of the world.

How Bad Will the Flu Be This Year?

Though it’s difficult to predict the exact impact the flu will have on any given population this year, it’s probably safe to say that more people will become infected this year than during periods of the COVID-19 pandemic when strict quarantine and masking protocols were being followed. In addition, the southern hemisphere gives us data and trends as to what we may expect for our flu season.

Flu season in places like Australia, which is located in the southern hemisphere, takes place at the opposite time of year than it does for those of us here in the U.S. Simply put, Australia has had a rough flu season in 2022, peaking well ahead of its usual pattern. If we base assumptions off Australia’s current experience, we may be in for a very severe flu season.

Will There Be a New Flu Virus for 2022/2023?

Part of the reason for the uncertainty of the flu’s impact in any given year is that flu viruses are always changing. Therefore, if new viruses are emerging for this upcoming flu season, it wouldn’t be unexpected or unusual. Each year the composition of the flu vaccine is updated to offer protection from the virus strains expected to be most prevalent, which is why it’s so important to receive a flu shot annually at the start of each new flu season.

Despite anticipated changes to the flu virus, the way you should go about protecting yourself doesn’t really change.

How Can You Protect Yourself Against the Flu?

The best way to protect yourself and those around you is by receiving the flu vaccine annually. The CDC continues to recommend people 6 months and older receive an annual flu shot to protect against the virus and potentially serious complications.

Adults aged 65 and older are at a higher risk of serious complications from influenza, making vaccination particularly important for this group. The CDC recommends older adults receive one of the higher-dose or adjuvanted influenza vaccines to increase their immune response and provide better protection from the virus.

  • Fluzone High-Dose Quadrivalent contains four times the antigen compared to standard-dose flu vaccines. The “quad” in quadrivalent refers to the four flu viruses it is designed to protect against, which are two influenza A viruses and two influenza B viruses.
  • Fluad Quadrivalent contains the MF59 adjuvant. An adjuvant is added as a way to create a stronger immune response, giving you better protection against the virus.
  • Flublok Quadrivalent contains three times the antigen dose compared to standard-dose flu vaccines. Flublok provides patients with an egg-free flu vaccine option.

Other groups considered high risk include pregnant people, young children, and people with certain chronic medical conditions. Even if you’re not in a high-risk group, vaccination can help protect those around you.

Although seasonal influenza viruses are detected year-round in the United States, they are most common in the fall and winter. Flu season often begins in October and peaks between December and February. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop and provide protection, making it important to get vaccinated before the virus is spreading in your community. In the United States, influenza vaccination is usually recommended in September and October.

[Read more: The "Where, When and Why" Behind Getting Your Flu Shot?]

In addition to receiving the flu vaccine, you can also do the following to help prevent you from contracting the illness.

  • Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, and wash your hands after
  • Avoid contact with those who are sick, staying home from work or school if at all possible
  • Keep your home and work spaces clean by using a disinfecting cleaner
  • Wash your hands with soap and water frequently, for at least 20 seconds
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water aren’t available
  • Avoid touching your hands to your face, specifically the areas of the mouth, nose and eyes

Even if you do fall ill with the flu, the above tips can help keep others from contracting the illness from you.

Should You Wear a Mask During Flu Season?

You’ve likely become used to wearing a mask due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but should you also wear a mask to prevent contracting the flu? The CDC has its own recommendations for mask-wearing when it comes to influenza.

People who are coughing or suspected of having influenza should wear a mask in health care settings until they are properly isolated or it is determined the cause of their symptoms are not infectious. Outside health care settings, the CDC states that wearing a mask may not be sufficiently effective at limiting transmission. To avoid exposing others to illness, persons diagnosed with influenza or those with a febrile illness should remain at home until their cough is resolving and fever is absent for 24 hours (without fever reducing medications). Symptomatic individuals that must go out in public should consider wearing a mask.

Have more questions about the flu vaccine? Get more answers here.

Regardless of what the upcoming flu season has in store, you can take steps to protect yourself by getting a flu vaccine and simply being smart about avoiding transmission. For questions about the flu vaccine in relation to your health plan from Network Health, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.

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