Crippled by COVID, now Europe faces ‘twindemic’: What this is, why it is worrying health officials

Influenza has again surfaced across the continent after practically vanishing last year, sparking fears of a long-term ‘twindemic’ with the coronavirus disease

FP Staff January 18, 2022 17:03:48 IST
Crippled by COVID, now Europe faces ‘twindemic’: What this is, why it is worrying health officials

Representational image. AFP

Already crippled by COVID-19, Europe is now facing a ‘twindemic’ — a dual challenge of soaring COVID-19 cases and increasing influenza infections, causing worry for health officials.

Here’s a better understanding at what’s happening and why it is causing concern.

Flu in Europe

Last year, owing to lockdowns, mask-wearing and social distancing, the COVID-19 pandemic had knocked out flu last winter, temporarily eradicating a virus that globally kills about 650,000 a year, according to European Union figures.

However, since mid-December, these numbers have risen at an unexpected rate. According to the data released by the European centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), in December, the number of flu cases in the intensive care units surged as there were at least 43 cases in the last week of the year.

The one silver lining is that these numbers are far below the pre-pandemic levels; in 2018 during the same period, weekly flu cases in ICUs stood at over 400.

The World Health Organization (WHO) also took note of the rise in flu cases. “The number of flu cases (caused by the influenza virus) detected in the WHO European Region was above what we would normally expect to find in the population for the second week in a row, which indicates the so-called flu season epidemic has started,” the health agency had said in its bulletin.

What is even more worrying is that the dominant flu strain circulating appears to be the H3 of the A virus, which usually causes the most severe cases among the elderly.

COVID rages across Europe

Europe is also under immense pressure as the COVID-19 infections keep rising and spreading at an unprecedented rate. France, Germany, UK and other countries in the continent have witnessed record COVID-19 numbers, putting a massive strain on hospitals and medical health care workers.

In fact, as a measure to tackle the rising numbers, France has approved the vaccine pass that would require people to produce their vaccination status to gain access to most places — such as restaurants, museums, theatres, parks and bars.

There are some European nations such as Austria that have also mandated COVID-19 vaccines for its population so as to fight the severity of the virus.

UK too is seeing high infections as well as vaccination rates. The seven-day incidence rate stands at more than 1,500, including about 170,000 new infections every day.

Moreover, the World Health Organization had said that in the next two months, over half of the people in Europe would be on track to contract the Omicron variant of coronavirus.

Worried officials

The ‘twindemic’ as it is being called has led to health and medical staff raising alarm bells as they are concerned that it would overwhelm the already-pressed health infrastructure.

Another concern is that it would raise doubts about the effectiveness of flu vaccines. Flu vaccines are adapted every year to make them as effective as possible against ever-changing flu viruses.

Vaccines Europe, which represents top vaccine makers in the region, said the industry had supplied large numbers of flu shots, despite the strain on production facilities posed by the pandemic.

With inputs from agencies

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