The Looming Threat of Concurrent Influenza and COVID-19 Epidemics

On August 14th, 2020, researchers from the Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston published, “Influenza in the COVID-19 Era” in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The authors write, “A looming threat of concurrent influenza and COVID-19 epidemics is a major concern for public health officials and clinicians.” They recommend interventions such as mandated face coverings in public, closure of schools and retail spaces, and restrictions on movement — not only reduce the spread of COVID-19, but also reduce the incidence of influenza. “Continued use of face coverings and reinstating local lockdowns during periods of increased transmission could substantially reduce the rates of infection for both diseases.” The authors explain that in addition to continuing practices around face coverings and local lockdowns, “there is a heightened importance for seasonal influenza vaccination to minimize the viral reservoir in the population.” They point to low vaccination rates in previous years and highlight the importance of increasing influenza vaccination rates this year. This article has important implications for people with asthma. People with asthma are at high risk of developing serious flu complications, even if their asthma is mild or their symptoms are well-controlled by medication. Flu infection can trigger asthma attacks and a worsening of asthma symptoms. Additionally, people with asthma are more likely to develop pneumonia after getting sick with flu than people who do not have asthma. The best defense against flu is getting a flu shot; the EPR-3 guidelines recommend inactivated flu vaccine for all patients with asthma older than six months of age.