Vaccination remains the best way to limit the risk of contracting influenza and avoiding its potential complications, especially since the coronavirus is still circulating and risks making a comeback as the winter season approaches, health experts warn.
The goal is to avoid a "twindemic" of flu and coronavirus, the experts warned on Tuesday at a press conference in Brussels.
Some 500,000 persons on average are affected each year by influenza and one case of influenza in 1,000 requires hospitalisation. “Predicting exactly when the next flu season will start, which viral strain will dominate it and the severity of the epidemic is impossible,” Marc Van Ranst, professor of virology and epidemiology at the Catholic University of Leuven explained.
Influenza activity in the southern hemisphere, however, can give an idea of what to expect in the northern hemisphere, said Professor Van Ranst, adding that the data from Australia in particular was not very reassuring.
He noted that since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, "the flu is not only back but the flu season in Australia has been particularly virulent." The island-continent has also seen the number of coronavirus cases increase. The risk of a possible double infection is therefore not negligible.
In Belgium, an estimated 59% of people aged 65 and over are vaccinated against influenza, whereas 75% vaccination coverage is necessary to achieve optimum protection. In Europe, an average 39% of people aged 65 and over are vaccinated against influenza.