You're Forgetting About Another Deadly Virus, WHO Warns
Amid coronavirus, health officials have lost sight of the dangers the flu still poses.
Over the past few months, the healthcare system has been preoccupied—and in certain areas, almost overwhelmed—by the coronavirus pandemic. It's also top of mind for many Americans. Responding to a poll by the American Psychiatry Association, 48 percent of those surveyed said that they fear contracting coronavirus, while 62 percent said they fear that a loved one will become infected. But other illnesses and diseases remain a danger. Hence, the World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a warning about another deadly viral infection that demands continued attention, even amid coronavirus: influenza.
During a June 15 media briefing, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, MD, spoke about the dangers of declining flu surveillance. "Influenza surveillance has either been suspended or is declining in many countries," he said, which could be detrimental once flu season rolls around. "We cannot lose sight of other significant public health issues, including influenza. Influenza affects every country every year, and takes its own deadly toll," Ghebreyesus noted. WHO estimates that there are between three and five million severe flu cases worldwide each year, resulting in anywhere from 290,000 to 650,000 deaths.
Flu season has already begun in the Southern Hemisphere, where the collision between it and the pandemic could be catastrophic. "Co-circulation of COVID-19 and influenza can worsen the impact on health care systems that are already overwhelmed," said Ghebreyesus during the briefing. With health care staff, hospital beds, and other resources being set aside for treating coronavirus patients, patients with the flu could suffer. Ghebreyesus said the decreased vigilance about influenza is a result of "a combination of issues, including the repurposing of staff and supplies, overburdened laboratories, and transport restrictions."
With half of the world already immersed in flu season and the Northern Hemisphere's on the horizon, officials are discussing how best to respond strategically. Executive Director of WHO's Health Emergencies Program Mike Ryan, MD, said in the briefing, "We're now entering a period in the world where we have to be able to track both COVID-19 and influenza." And to see how COVID-19 stacks up against other deadly diseases, check out How Flu Deaths and Other Common Killers Compare With Coronavirus.