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Highlights | Flu is coming

  • After two years of mild flu seasons, the 2022 season could be more severe.
  • Someone who has already been infected with the COVID-19 omicron variant could get it again, too.
  • Getting a flu shot and omicron-targeted bivalent booster will help people stay protected and healthy.

After two years of cold and flu cases at a record low, it looks like the trend may not be continuing. This summer, doctors have been seeing an uptick in viral illnesses, and some expect this coming fall and winter will be especially bad.

Amanda Casto, MD, PhD, acting assistant professor in the Division of Allergy & Infectious Diseases, answers our key questions about what to expect and how to prepare for this cold and flu season.

Anecdotally, patients and doctors have been reporting more severe colds over the summer. What might be causing this?

For the last two cold and flu seasons, fewer people have been exposed to the flu and cold viruses due to COVID-19 restrictions. This decrease in immune protection could lead to more severe cases of illness due to respiratory viruses.

Do you have any indications of what cold and flu season will be like this fall and winter?

As the first cold/flu season without many COVID-19 restrictions and with the relative lack of immunity to influenza and cold viruses compared to pre-COVID-19 cold/flu seasons, I think there is concern that this cold/flu season will be more severe than a typical one.

Should people be worried about omicron reinfection this fall and winter?

Individuals who have previously had COVID-19 could be reinfected with the omicron variant this fall or winter even if their previous infection was due to the omicron variant. The risk of reinfection this fall or winter is higher for those with weakened immune systems. The risk of reinfection also likely increases with the amount of time it has been since an individual’s first COVID-19 infection. The best thing you can do to protect yourself is to get the bivalent COVID-19 booster, which will help protect against serious illness should you get reinfected with omicron.

Can people get infected with COVID-19 and another virus at the same time? Would that make their illness more severe?

Yes. This does happen. We’re not yet sure if having a second virus makes COVID-19 more severe or not. This is an area of active research.

Influenza caused hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and tens of thousands of deaths from 2019-2020. Yet, many people still don’t get flu shots. Why is this?

There are many reasons why people don’t get flu shots. Despite the significant negative health impacts that you mentioned (hospitalization and death), many people think of the flu as a mild illness that will not significantly impact their health or the health of those around them. As a result, they don’t think it is important for them to get the flu shot. Others have the mistaken impression that the flu shot can give you the flu. Others avoid vaccines in general out of safety concerns, aversion to injections, etc. But the flu shot is safe, effective and will not give you the flu. It will help protect you from getting seriously ill from the flu.

Who should get a flu shot?

Everyone 6 months of age or older should get an annual flu shot. The only exception is individuals who have a severe allergy (anaphylaxis) to the influenza vaccine or one of its components.

When should someone get an omicron booster?

Omicron (also called bivalent) boosters have now been approved for individuals who are 12 years old or older. I would recommend that everyone in this age category receive an omicron booster when they become available. The only caveat to this is that the CDC recommends that individuals wait two months after any previous COVID-19 vaccinations before receiving the omicron booster. Also, individuals who have also recently had COVID-19 should wait two to three months before receiving the omicron booster.