Kaieteur News – When last did Guyana have a flu outbreak? At least not in the past year!
It was reported in the media yesterday that some residents of Aishalton, South Rupununi, came down with certain symptoms – fever, pain to the joints and dry cough – that they first assumed was the flu! Big mistake!
Once you display any of the usual symptoms of the flu, plus the additional ones associated with the coronavirus, your first assumption should be that you might be infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus. And you should immediately seek medical attention and advice.
Do not assume it is the common cold or the flu. One of the strange and yet unexplained developments is the reduction in the incidence of influenza during the 2020/2021 flu season. A report in Reuters has suggested that this is not a case of influenza cases being diagnosed as COVID-19 but rather that the measures which are being employed to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic are also slowing and suppressing influenza.
Dallas, Texas, as of March this year had recorded two flu cases and no deaths as compared to 18,186 flu cases and 25 deaths last flu season. But if the prevention measures being used to stem the coronavirus is responsible for the decline in influenza cases and deaths, why are so many new coronavirus infections being recorded across the United States?
In South Dakota, there were 66 reported influenza cases and two deaths this flu season as compared with 9,555 cases and 43 deaths in the 2019/2020 flu season. In Alberta, Canada, the flu season has ended with no cases of influenza. Ottawa usually averages 43,000 influenza cases each season. This year, there were 66 cases as at the third week in March, according to CTV News.
Bloomberg reported that during the three-month period between September 2020 and January 2021, the influenza viruses were detected in just 0.2 percent of routine throat and nasal swabs. This compares with the normal average of 17 percent.
While the coronavirus is believed to be more than 10 times more infectious than the viruses which usually result in influenza, this fact does not explain how it is that the same measures are not more effective in preventing coronavirus infections. Certainly if mask wearing, sanitising and social distancing account for the dramatic decline in influenza cases, they should have also had a greater impact on coronavirus cases.
But they have not which suggests that preventative measures are simply not the main reason for the suppression of the flu during the winter season. The flu season in the United States is usually between October and March. But this has also been the period during which the coronavirus has spread more rapidly than before.
One theory is that the viruses, which cause the flu, are suppressing the replication of some corona viruses. The BBC quoted researchers at the University of Glasgow as saying that it appears as if the virus which causes the common cold is trumping the coronavirus. One expert opinion is that the common cold is beating back the coronavirus. But this still does not explain the number of coronavirus cases.
Another explanation which is being offered for the decline in flu cases and deaths is the increase in flu vaccination ever since the coronavirus struck in March 2020. This may be a plausible explanation. But the debate was why influenza outbreaks have been so low this past winter season is likely to continue for some time in the future.
In Guyana, it has been noticeable that there has not been a major outbreak of the flu. This may be good news for children and adults but not good news for the doctors and pharmacies which do thriving business whenever there is a flu outbreak.
With a massive spike in cases recently, there is bound to be denial among the population. People who refuse to consider that they may be infected with the coronavirus many want to believe that the symptoms they are experiencing are related to the flu.
This assumption can literally be deadly. Persons should not take any chances. They should get tested as soon as they display any symptoms or are exposed to someone who has been tested positive.
In fact, there should now be mass testing of the population. The government should aim at increasing its testing capacity to 5,000 tests per day. This would allow for the entire population to be tested over a six-month period.
But more important is vaccination. Experts are now saying that a faster rollout of the vaccination is now the best way to overcome the threats posed by the variants. This may be true for preventing infections.
The data, however, does not establish that a greater percentage of young people are dying. At least not in the United States which has the highest infection and death rates. Even with the new variants, the elderly (persons 50 plus) account for 95 percent of the deaths in the month of March and so far for April.
With the shortages of vaccines, authorities have to make a choice between faster rollout to the general population to prevent hospitals becoming overwhelmed, or vaccinating more of the over-50 population so as to reduce the death rate. It is not an easy choice especially for some of our local experts who are simply guessing their way.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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