10/11/21—The word pandemic has become commonplace in the current COVID environment, but one term you may not be familiar with is,“twindemic.” The term twindemic refers to the onslaught of flu season, which runs from fall through winter and peaks between December and February,1 combined with the COVID pandemic. Scientists and doctors are preparing for this season’s twindemic, and you should too.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were approximately 39 to 56 million cases of the flu in 2019, with estimated flu-related deaths ranging from 24,000 to 64,000. While an exact number is difficult to pinpoint, since the flu is not a reportable disease in the U.S., even these estimates are alarming. Not only does the flu affect the population, but businesses as well. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employees taking four eight-hour days away from work due to the flu could cost employers $13 billion dollars from any given flu season.2 However, in 2020 as COVID and lockdown were occurring globally, the world saw a record low in flu numbers. The CDC attributes this to safety precautions enacted to protect against COVID, with masking, social distancing, handwashing, and isolating all helping to significantly lower flu cases globally.3
Officials are not as optimistic for the 2021 flu season for many reasons. “Because of so little disease last year, population immunity is likely lower, putting us all at risk of increased disease this year,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky.4 Along with low population immunity, relaxed safety guidelines, like masking and social distancing, paired with a return to work and school, will also be major contributors to high numbers of influenza spread. “This year, things are much more open,” said Dean Blumberg, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at UC Davis Children’s Hospital. “We are already seeing the transmission of respiratory viruses like influenza in the community.”5
To protect yourself and loved ones in the upcoming months there are several things you can do, with the first step being vaccination, from both the flu and COVID-19. The CDC advises that the best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccine, which is recommended yearly for anyone 6 months and older. Although children under 12 are still ineligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, which may change any day now, a flu vaccine can help protect them from one half of the upcoming twindemic. You can get vaccines from your local health department or clinic, primary care managers and local pharmacies.
To further protect yourself and loved ones, safe hygiene practices including frequent hand washing, covering your mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and regular daily cleaning of commonly shared surfaces are recommended.6 Many of the recommended steps are similar to what is advised for COVID mitigation, such as social distancing and isolating when sick, wearing a face mask when out in public and avoiding large events, both outdoor and indoor. For businesses that remain open, ensure employees follow strict hygiene guidelines and stay home when sick. Contact tracing in your business, with programs like AlertTrace, is another effective way to stop spread should an employee develop either COVID or the flu.
Symptoms of both COVID and the flu are similar, body aches, fever, shortness of breath, sore throat, headache and even loss of taste and smell can occur with either illness. While loss of taste and smell is more prevalent with COVID, should any symptoms occur it is advised that you quarantine yourself from others and monitor your illness. Reach out to your local health department or primary care doctor to schedule a test and follow up treatment.
Although the twindemic may seem daunting, several practical and easy steps can be taken to protect yourself and your community. Remember to get vaccinated when possible and use safe hygiene practices. Always stay home when sick, and if you’re a business ensure employees feel empowered to do so by not punishing absences due to illness. If you are a business or organization who has recently reopened its doors, contact tracing is an effective way to protect your workforce and mitigate spread. AlertTrace provides easy, fast, and reliable contact tracing, with no infrastructure needed, to help protect your business, your employees, and your community this upcoming twindemic season.
1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, September 28). Flu season. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved October 11, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/flu-season.htm#:~:text=In%20the%20United%20States%2C%20flu%20season%20occurs%20in%20the%20fall,last%20as%20late%20as%20May.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, December 3). 2019-2020 U.S. flu season: Preliminary in-season burden estimates. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved October 11, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/preliminary-in-season-estimates.htm.
2 Challenger, G. & C. (2020, December 3). 2019-2020 flu season could cost employers $13B. Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. Retrieved October 11, 2021, from https://www.challengergray.com/blog/2019-2020-flu-season-could-cost-employers-13b/.
3 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, July 22). 2020-2021 flu season summary. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved October 11, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/flu/season/faq-flu-season-2020-2021.htm.
4 Coleman, J. (2021, October 7). CDC director urging flu shots ahead of potentially ‘severe’ season. TheHill. Retrieved October 11, 2021, from https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/575779-cdc-director-urging-flu-shots-ahead-of-potentially-severe-season.
5 Null. (2021, August 10). Twindemic warning: Covid-19 and flu season will collide this winter. UC Davis Health. Retrieved October 11, 2021, from https://health.ucdavis.edu/health-news/newsroom/twindemic-warning-covid-19-and-flu-season-will-collide-this-winter/2021/10.
6 Get your household ready for pandemic flu. (n.d.). Retrieved October 11, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/nonpharmaceutical-interventions/pdf/gr-pan-flu-ind-house.pdf.