Dr. Fauci Says This Is One Benefit of COVID Lasting Through the Fall
COVID sticking around through flu season might actually be beneficial, according to the NIAID director.
If you've paid attention to any recent interview with Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), you've likely caught wind of the five measures he is urging everyone to adopt to stop the spread of COVID-19. To get the virus under control, Fauci and many other medical and public health experts say you should wear a mask, adhere to social distancing, avoid crowds, maintain hand hygiene, and avoid indoor bars and restaurants. And it turns out, all of these precautions might actually do some good beyond curbing the coronavirus. According to Fauci, the preventative measures we've adopted to fight COVID-19 could also help us avoid a deadly flu season come fall.
During a recent Alliance for Health Policy webinar, Fauci said that it's possible that "the mask-wearing, the physical separation, the avoiding crowds, the hand-washing that we're doing now for COVID might really, really blunt the flu season." So, the measures you take to avoid contracting COVID can work double-time by preventing you from getting the flu this fall.
Fauci also recalled that in 2009 when H1N1—swine flu—struck, experts were expecting a typical flu season. However, when fall rolled around, they found that H1N1 "bumped" the flu. "So it is conceivable that if you have COVID of any extent, you might have two reasons to have less flu: one, because you're doing the kinds of things of public health—masks, etcetera—and two, it might get bumped out by COVID," said Fauci.
Previously, medical professionals have been warning Americans that the combination of the flu and COVID-19 in the fall could be a recipe for disaster. In a news briefing on June 25, Robert Redfield, MD, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said, "I'm highly concerned about the complexity we will be facing in the fall when we have coronavirus and influenza."
Flu season starts in October, and takes a toll on the U.S. health system every year. The CDC estimates that, over the last 10 years, the United States has seen around 475,000 hospitalizations and 36,500 deaths annually, due to the flu. This year, if ICU beds are full of COVID-19 patients when the season starts, Redfield warned that the health care system would not be able to treat both flu patients and coronavirus patients—which could cause the number of deaths to spike.
"If there is COVID-19 and flu activity at the same time, this could place a tremendous burden on the health care system related to bed occupancy, laboratory testing needs, personal protective equipment and health care worker safety," Redfield wrote in his testimony for the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on June 23.
"There is a chance that the peak of the second wave will coincide with the upcoming flu season," Rajnish Jaiswal, MD, previously told Best Life. "That potentially could be catastrophic for the public and might overwhelm the healthcare resources again."
Fall 2020 is the earliest some health experts expect a coronavirus vaccine (with many warning that we won't have one until at least 2021), so the chances of the flu and the coronavirus hitting simultaneously is pretty high. That being said, it remains to be seen if flu season will be less severe due to COVID-19.
For his part, Fauci is holding out hope that both the flu and COVID-19 will be down in the fall. "Vaccination for flu, public health measures for flu and COVID, would have us be in the situation where both the flu season is blunted and we have very little COVID," he said optimistically.
Despite spiking numbers of new COVID-19 cases in quite a few spots across the country, Fauci is confident the flu and COVID-19 can be down this fall. "That's a goal that we should aspire to that I think is possible," said Fauci. And for more from the NIAID director, check out Dr. Fauci Says This Is the Sign That a COVID-19 Surge Is Coming.