Recent weeks have seen a surge of reports of varied respiratory infections — including Covid, flu and, particularly in young children, Strep A and RSV. And just today the UK Health Security Agency has issued guidance encouraging individuals who feel unwell to remain at home, fairly than mingling with others and risking spreading disease this festive season. Each COVID-19 and the flu are on the rise within the UK, with hospital admission rates from the previous as much as 9.56 per 100,000 people as of last week and eight.27 for the latter.
Medical microbiologist Professor Paul Hunter of the University of East Anglia told Express.co.uk this yr’s whammy of respiratory infections has a straightforward explanation.
He said: “It’s mainly because we’ve not had much for the previous few years — due to restrictions which have suppressed Covid, but have also suppressed plenty of other infections.
“We were expecting that when flu specifically got here back that it could be a very bad flu yr because we’ve not had any flu and due to this fact population immunity is lower.”
This, he explains, is basically just a bigger version of what’s seen in isolated island communities that manage to avoid the flu for a number of years before it returns.
He added: “When it does make it onto the island, they get it worse then.”
On top of the side-effects of COVID-19 restrictions, respiratory infections are likely to be particularly difficult in winter for 2 reasons, Prof. Hunter explains.
He said: “One is that in winter, we’re only a bit more prone to be indoors in crowded environments than we’re through the summer, during warmer months.”
“Some people have suggested that when it’s really cold out and we’re indoors in a warm environment, the air is kind of dry — since the relative humidity could be very low — and that dries the mucus in your nose, which protects against viruses.”
On top of this, he added, after a yr one’s immunity to infection from many respiratory viruses is “well on the approach to being gone” from the previous winter.
Prof. Hunter continued: “So, it kind of falls into this cycle where you’ve got a rather greater risk of transmission during winter with the time that the immunity is waning from the previous yr.”
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In terms of Group A Strep infections — which incorporates scarlet fever in addition to the invasive form that has led to the death of a lot of children within the UK in recent weeks — the image is just a little more complicated, Prof Hunter says.
As he explains: “After we see [cases of] invasive Group A Strep, they are frequently secondary to a flu epidemic. After we’ve had bad scarlet fever years, they’re all the time years we’ve had bad flu.”
Strep A infections were outstanding, he notes, back within the winters of 2017–18 and 2010–11, each of which were bad flu years, likely on account of genetic changes within the virus.
Prof Hunter added: “One of the best thing you’ll be able to do to guard your kids from Group A Strep is to get them vaccinated against flu.”
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Professor Francois Balloux, a computational systems biologist with University College London, agrees that ensuring your flu vaccinations are up up to now is a superb step this yr.
He said: “Flu vaccination obviously reduces the danger. This yr, I’d wish to say, the flu vaccine is basically a superb match.”
Looking further forward, Prof. Balloux noted there are also vaccines “on the horizon” for RSV — which he says has all the time been a “major problem” in very young children — and they appear “pretty good”.
He added: “Within the near future, I believe pregnant women will probably be offered the vaccine — and it can produce antibodies that will probably be passed on to the infant.”