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MI flu season may be worse than 2019 due to low natural immunity

influenza vaccine
Flickr/KOMU News
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Health officials say lower natural immunity rates could produce an usually high number of influenza infections this season.

Flu season is underway in Michigan, and some health officials predict this year’s outbreak could be worse than 2019, the longest on record in the U.S.

The CDC reports about 35 million flu-related illnesses were observed during the 2019 season with around 20,000 deaths.

In 2020, widespread mitigation efforts like quarantines and social distancing aimed at curbing COVID-19 brought influenza cases way down.

But this year could be a different story.

Michigan State University infectious disease expert Dr. Peter Gulick says less exposure to the flu last year means fewer people developed natural immunity.

He says people can’t assume that being vaccinated against COVID will protect them from the flu.

“Not in the least,” Gulick said. “And so that’s why getting both vaccines is very important; and what they’re really referring to this season of viral infections is the ‘twindemic;’ both influenza and COVID occurring hand in hand.”

Gulick says this year’s influenza vaccine is designed to protect against two strains that were prevalent in 2020, plus two new strains.

“Hopefully, since not a lot of people got infected last year, the variants of influenza are going to be very similar this year to last year,” Gulick said.

Kevin Lavery is a general assignment reporter and occasional local host for Morning Edition and All Things considered.
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