As Omicron continues to infect its way across America, let us not forget its viral companion: influenza. How is that working out?
As another wave of infections washes across the land, and officials call for or against the non-pharmacologic interventions (NPI) a new battle is being waged. Do these interventions work? Where is the science to follow? Let’s ignore your favorite expert or talking head; I’ll report, you decide.
Reports of an H5N8 influenza virus spreading among birds across the globe understandably have generated concern. However, H5 viruses do not pose a direct threat to the health of the vast majority of humans on the planet, at least not yet.
Dr. Michael Osterholm, ACSH advisor and infectious disease epidemiologist, has co-authored a report on the coronavirus, drawing upon lessons learned from previous influenza pandemics. He and his co-authors predict one of three scenarios for how the COVID-19 pandemic will play out.
Peter Fairley, an environmental journalist and contributing editor for MIT Technology Review, cited an anti-vaccine website, DeSmogBlog, in a smear directed at our organization. Simultaneously, he spread misinformation about influenza and COVID-19 and endorses advice that contradicts that of the CDC and World Health Organization.
At the current time, influenza remains the far bigger threat to global public health than COVID-19. Though COVID-19 has a higher case-fatality rate, influenza infects far more people. Of course, that could change.
ACSH advisor Dr. Henry Miller admittedly has "a complicated relationship with viruses." He also knows a lot about them. Here's his take on the one that has arguably captured the attention of nearly every country on Earth.
Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is more than a bad cold. Seasonal outbreaks cause not only tremendous misery but huge numbers of hospital admissions and fatalities. Although the "holy grail" – a universal flu vaccine that recognizes all strains, including newly-arising ones – is not yet available, this does not mean that you should not get the seasonal vaccine. You should, and soon.
Do you want grandma to keep baking cookies? Well, she won't anymore if she dies from the flu. So go get your shot when the next flu season rolls around in October.
Many Americans hold beliefs about the flu vaccine that are at odds with the best available scientific evidence. For example, a recent study found that 43 percent of Americans believe that the seasonal flu vaccine can give us the flu. Scientific research strongly suggests that this is not true. Because most modern flu shots do not contain a live virus, the shot itself simply cannot get us sick.
Only about 37% of American adults bothered to get a flu shot this past flu season. That's actually a decrease from the previous season, when about 43% got one. Partially as a result, 80,000 Americans died from the flu. On the flip side, we did buy more organic food than ever before.
Our national experience of influenza, as one disease with a set season, makes it difficult to recognize that flu is not a monolith. The global exposure to influenza has a lot more variation, and vaccination rates are influenced by much more than we might expect.