Two deadly viruses collide as the temperature cools
The coronavirus pandemic has had a significant impact on America; over the past year, there have been 7.69 million total cases and 213,000 deaths. (1) The fall, however, brings a whole new challenge: the flu. As these two deadly viruses collide, all of America may be affected, and health care systems may be stretched beyond their limits. Moreover, this scenario will not be finished in the short-term. The flu season may last through early spring, and the coronavirus pandemic may last through all of 2021.
As America prepares for this new reality, it will confront a variety of challenges. Firstly, the health care system must drastically increase the number of COVID-19 tests it has, as people testing for the flu also need to test for COVID-19 to guard against any mistakes. People can also get infected by both diseases at the same time, making symptoms more unpredictable and severe. The hospital may not treat these infected people, as coronavirus hospitalization levels have not yet decreased significantly. Furthermore, Jeanne Marazzo, director of the Infectious Diseases Division of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, predicts that “we [people] could see a perfect storm of accelerated COVID-19 activity as people gather more inside in particular, as they become increasingly fatigued with the mask-wearing, social distancing, and the hand hygiene, and as they are exposed to seasonal influenza”. (2)
A look into the Southern Hemisphere, however, may provide some hope. Countries in the Southern Hemisphere have flu seasons beginning in May, peaking in July, and ending in October. This year, Australia had a particularly severe flu season that started in January. However, by March, as the coronavirus hit Australia hard, the flu almost completely disappeared. From April to July, only 33 people were positive out of a total of 600,000 tests. Similar situations occurred in South Africa and Chile, which had a combined 18 positive tests out of 23,000 total. In contrast, in the past 3 years, Australia, South Africa, and Chile had a combined 24,500 positive tests out of 179,000 total. (3) Even though this investigation reveals positive signals, the overall situation is still unpredictable. Richard Webby, a virologist at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn, believes that “SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — and influenza will be competing for hosts to infect, which may result in one virus squeezing out the other”. He thus states that he finds “it difficult to believe that there’s going to be widespread flu and widespread COVID activity at the same time” and believes one will dominate. However, he doesn’t know which virus will come out on top. Either way, America will suffer, but there’s a silver lining – from both past evidence and scientific conjecture, it’s unlikely for both viruses to be at full strength. (4)
– Jack Qiu
- “CDC COVID Data Tracker.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/.
- Garcia de Jesus, Erin. “What Will Happen When COVID-19 and the Flu Collide This Fall?” San Antonio Current, San Antonio Current, 26 Oct. 2020, www.sacurrent.com/the-daily/archives/2020/09/26/what-will-happen-when-covid-19-and-the-flu-collide-this-fall.
- “Flu in the Southern Hemisphere Has ‘Practically Disappeared.’ What Does That Mean for America’s Flu Season?” Advisory Board Daily Briefing, 24 July 2020, www.advisory.com/daily-briefing/2020/07/24/coronavirus-restrictions.
- Saey, Tina Hesman. “What Will Happen When COVID-19 and the Flu Collide This Fall?” Science News, 18 Sept. 2020, www.sciencenews.org/article/covid19-coronavirus-flu-season-fall.