The end of the flu?

By Misch Pautsch Switch to French for original article

Thanks to social distancing, the seasonal flu, a normal part of every winter for most of the world, has almost disappeared completely. Dr Trung Nguyen, head of Virology and Serology at the National Health Laboratory, explains what this could mean for the future development of flu infections.

Covid monopolises the discourse around diseases to such an extent that the absence of the so-called normal seasonal flu – the unpleasant and even sometimes lethal part of every winter – was not even noticed by a large part of the population. Is there a possibility that the world got rid of the flu nuisance for good, as some sort of "collateral damage" of the fight against Covid due to the effectiveness of the protective measures?

Lëtzebuerger Journal: According to several scientific journals, influenza has almost completely disappeared worldwide in the last year. Is this also the case in Luxembourg?

Dr Trung Nguyen: Yes, worldwide actually. It hasn't disappeared completely, there are much less transmissions. Some strains can not be found at all anymore.

Is this the result of social isolation?

It's the protective measures, as well as the fact that people no longer travel and work from home. The virus needs human contact to be transmitted. If we block all that, it can't obviously be transmitted anymore. And as it has the same mode of transmission as Covid, if we prevent Covid from circulating, we prevent influenza from circulating too, which leads to a reduction in infections.

And for the future of the so-called flu, of which there are several variations, what exactly does that mean? Has this nuisance been eradicated for good?

There are dozens of respiratory viruses, which are transmitted in more or less the same way, and more or less during the same period of the year. We're talking about colds and similar viruses, which all circulate much less well at the time. As long as we keep our current habits, I believe that it will be reduced in relation to these protective mesaures. But we have no idea what will happen exactly when things go back to normal. It depends on us: Will we continue to behave in the same way? If we go back to the "norm", as we did before Covid, the flu will certainly come back.

The seasonal strains are no longer circulating, but other strains may emerge or re-emerge in the future, because the reservoirs of these influenzas are wildlife and domesticated animals, not humans. They live in birds, cows, chickens, and pigs, for example. As such, influenza that circulates between animals cannot be controlled, of course. Transmissions from animals to humans are rare, but not impossible. As soon as you have people in contact with these animals, there is always a risk of transmission of another virus. So you can certainly have a temporary decrease, but when things get back to normal, another strain of flu can come back. Colds and the flu are not going to go away.

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