WHO has urged countries to maintain vigilance for influenza epidemic and pandemic threats, as influenza has started to increase in many countries with the onset of October. With the removal of public health measures taken to curb COVID-19 spread, which also reduced influenza activity, as the COVID-19 situation eased, both viruses may transmit more easily, the WHO says.
The co-circulation of influenza, a SARS-CoV-2 virus, raises the possibility of a more severe winter respiratory virus season, the WHO stated in a release issued on Friday.
According to WHO, around a billion people become sick with influenza every year, with three to five million severe cases and 290 000 to 650 000 deaths.
Common symptoms of influenza
The most commonly reported influenza symptoms include fever, cough, headache, muscle and joint pain, sore throat and a runny nose. Most people recover within a week, but the cough can be severe and can last two weeks or more, the WHO says.
Very old and young people, those with underlying metabolic or cardiovascular conditions and vulnerable populations can be at risk of more severe complications of influenza, it says.
Is there need for intervention?
According to WHO, influenza vaccination remains an essential intervention for preventing and reducing disease severity and mortality.
Who should take the influenza vaccination?
For priority use of influenza vaccines, WHO recommends health workers, individuals with comorbidities and underlying conditions, older adults, and pregnant women; and children (depending on national disease goals, capacity and resources, epidemiology, national policies and priorities, and disease burden).
Co-administration of influenza vaccine with COVID-19 vaccine
WHO says co-administration of a seasonal influenza vaccine with any dose of a COVID-19 vaccine is acceptable. WHO recommends using the contralateral limb for injection if the two vaccines are administered during the same visit.
The WHO Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS) has recently announced the recommended composition of influenza virus vaccines for use in the 2023 southern hemisphere influenza season, according to a WHO release.
Apart from vaccination, personal measures such as hand hygiene, physical distancing, respiratory etiquette, mask use, and staying home when sick, which are effective in limiting COVID-19 transmission, can be also effective for limiting influenza transmission.
Pandemic potential of influenza and importance of surveillance
An influenza virus with pandemic potential (IVPP) could emerge at any time, WHO says, adding Influenza surveillance systems are critical to monitoring and understanding globally circulating viruses. Hence, WHO urges countries to maintain vigilance for influenza epidemic and pandemic threats.
The GISRS, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, serves as the global mechanism and platform for virological surveillance. Since the beginning of COVID-19 pandemic, WHO also encouraged member states to integrate testing of samples for SARS-CoV-2 into existing influenza sentinel surveillance systems given the similarity of symptoms in people infected with these viruses.