4 questions | ‘Even those who have the flu should stay at home as much as possible’

Due to the corona measures, the flu epidemic has skipped a year. Has this made us more susceptible to the flu virus? We submitted our questions to vaccinologist and professor Isabel Leroux-Roels. ‘Even those who have the flu should stay at home. Testing negative for corona is not a pass to go ahead.’

1. Have we already reached a peak in the number of flu infections?

A flu epidemic usually flares up in January and February, but because of corona we have an unusual course. Last year there was hardly any flu in circulation and in the first months of this year the virus was also nipped in the bud by the corona measures. They went down on February 18 code yellow largely in shovel and that seems to have an effect on the figures.

According to the latest flu bulletin, which summarizes the figures from March 7 to 13, the number of visits to the doctor for flu-like complaints rose to 520 per 100,000 inhabitants. There are still unconfirmed corona cases among those figures. The symptoms for flu and corona are very similar. The actual number of flu cases is therefore lower, but according to the laboratories that sample confirmed flu infections, the number of confirmed cases is rising rapidly. So the virus is still gaining momentum. Although there is no cause for concern yet: compared to the years before corona, the numbers remain relatively low.

Due to the combination with the coronavirus, UZ Leuven and UZ Antwerp have already decided to postpone normal care again† The hospitals anticipate an influx of patients and expected staff loss.

2. What should I do if I have the flu?

Hopefully people have learned lessons from corona. If you are sick, you better stay home. And if that is not possible, you wear a mouth mask to protect others’, emphasizes Isabel Leroux-Roels. “It would be very wrong reasoning to think that you can just go ahead if you have tested negative for corona.”

The flu can last up to a week and you have to get sick. Lots of rest and sleep is important. Warm drinks, such as soup, tea or warm milk, help to hydrate and keep the body warm.

3. Is our immunity to flu weaker because we have become accustomed to extra hygiene measures?

‘The immunity in the entire population may indeed be slightly weaker because there was hardly any flu in circulation last year, but most adults have already been introduced to an influenza virus. That built-up immunity is not suddenly gone’, says Leroux-Roels. Still, some groups need to pay attention. ‘The flu can strike harder in people from risk groups, older people or young children who have never had the virus.’

4. Will the corona pandemic also affect flu vaccine production?

The flu ‘sabbatical year’ may have an effect on vaccine effectiveness. ‘Every year the question is which strains of the flu will circulate. We look to the southern hemisphere for this. What flu is circulating in Australia? If we know that, we can develop a vaccine that acts against that type of flu’, says the vaccinologist. ‘But there was also very little flu in Australia due to the strict corona measures. This makes the development of the vaccine more difficult. Nevertheless, there is as yet no question of a mismatch between the vaccine and the circulating virus.’

There are indications that the vaccination rate against flu is lower than in previous years. “The focus of the vaccination campaigns was of course mainly on corona,” explains Leroux-Roels. “That may have an effect.”

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