Japanese experts sound alarm of an impending flu outbreak in winter

JAPAN – Infectious disease experts in Japan are calling on people to consider getting vaccinated against simultaneous influenza and COVID 19 co-outbreak this season, unlike last season.

Flu vaccinations have begun across the country. However, few flu cases have been reported so far this season, as opposed to last season, when the country did not experience a flu outbreak due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A sudden increase in COVID-19 and flu patients would strain Japan’s healthcare system and increase the burden on the field, potentially resulting in a medical collapse. While there were no flu outbreaks last winter, experts are concerned about a potential double outbreak this season, contrary to popular belief.

The first symptoms of COVID-19 and influenza are similar and difficult to distinguish. If both flu and coronavirus patients flood medical facilities with outpatient wards for people with fevers, those on the ground may become overburdened and unable to provide appropriate medical care.

It is necessary to make preparations, taking into account the flu outbreak in autumn and winter,” read a recommendation by the Health, Labor, and Welfare Ministry’s advisory board.

Flu outbreaks typically occur during the winter months in normal years. Coronavirus infections also peaked during the “third coronavirus wave” between late December 2020 and early January 2021.

There have been reports of breakthrough infections, in which people who have been immunized twice for the coronavirus still contract it, and many experts predict a “sixth wave” will hit the country this winter.

Double outbreaks, on the other hand, are difficult to predict. Although experts warned against a simultaneous spread of flu last winter, the number of flu cases was extremely low.

In 2018 and 2019, over 250,000 weekly flu cases were reported during January and February, when infections typically peak.

However, during the same period in 2020, this figure fell to around 90,000, and below 100 in 2021.

Seasonal flu kills an estimated 290,000–650,000 people worldwide each year. However, it was virtually non-existent in much of the world for the majority of 2020 and 2021.

According to FluNet, a World Health Organization tool for tracking global virological data on influenza, the proportion of positive flu tests has remained roughly flat since April 2020, despite increased surveillance.

According to an article published in nature.com, the United States had only 646 flu deaths in the 2020–21 season, compared to the annual average of tens of thousands and only one pediatric flu death, according to an article published in nature.com.

According to the WHO, the period when such anti-coronavirus measures were implemented is directly related to the drop in reported flu cases.

Accordingly, Japan did not have a flu outbreak last season because people took precautions against infections during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as wearing face masks.

The British government has warned that the size of this year’s flu outbreak could be 1.5 times that of normal years.

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