While the world focused on COVID-19 last winter, influenza came and went with barely a trace. The Northern Hemisphere followed its southern counterpart in experiencing a record number of flu cases, hospitalizations, and deaths—a record low, that is. In fact, the United States had so few cases last year, the CDC was unable to use its customary estimation system to calculate how many occurred. While the actual number of cases was no doubt higher, clinical laboratories and public health laboratories reported only 2,124 confirmed cases of influenza between September 27, 2020, and May 15, 2021. That's down from a more typical 39 million cases estimated by the CDC for the 2019-2020 season.

The measures taken to reduce the spread of COVID-19—masks, social distancing, and handwashing—no doubt kept the number of flu cases to a minimum last year. With the lifting of lockdown, students returning to in-person classes and a large percentage of the population going maskless and socializing at prepandemic levels, influenza should spread much more easily this fall and winter.

The low number of cases last year may also contribute to a more severe flu season in the coming months because many fewer people will have developed recent immunity to influenza, which typically provides some protection in following years. And some percentage of the population may be reluctant to get another this year.

Here's a bit of unexpected good news for those on the fence: recent research demonstrates that the flu vaccine reduces the severity of COVID-19, too. That's quite a bonus, particularly for individuals worried about waning immunity.

The study published in PLoS One matched 37,377 COVID-19 patients who received the flu vaccine to an equal number who had not. Individuals who had the flu vaccine had lower rates of sepsis, stroke, and ICU admissions at 30, 60, 90, and 120 days after their positive COVID-19 diagnosis. They also had significantly lower rates of deep vein thrombosis at 60 to 120 days and fewer visits to the emergency department at 90 and 120 days post diagnosis.

"Our analysis outlines the potential protective effect of influenza vaccination in SARS-CoV-2-positive patients against adverse outcomes at 30, 60, 90, and 120 days of a positive diagnosis," the researchers concluded. While obviously not as good at avoiding COVID-19 altogether as the COVID vaccine, the flu vaccine appears to do some protective double duty.

Some are going to get a respiratory infection regardless of their vaccination status. With the coronavirus expected to continue its current surge at least into October and to remain in circulation throughout the winter, your customers will want to know whether they have the flu, the novel coronavirus, or another infection like respiratory syncytial virus or a combination of these. A system that enables testing for multiple pathogens simultaneously could be a good investment this year, saving the pharmacy and its customers time and providing more certainty about infections.

The content contained in this article is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Reliance on any information provided in this article is solely at your own risk.

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