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University of Kent scientist predicts worrying flu resurgence this winter

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Original article from Kent Live

A scientist from the University of Kent has predicted a worrying resurgence of the flu this winter.

Martin Michaelis, Professor of Molecular Medicine, believes the UK will be confronted with a deadly flu season, due to COVID-19 measures affecting the dynamics of influenza in humans.

There is normally little change between the influenza viruses that circulate each year, however occasionally a completely new virus emerges, against which there is no pre-existing immunity in the human population.

Read more: 35million to get flu jab this winter – including children

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Martin believes the reduced spread of the normal influenza virus, as a result of measures such as social distancing and mask wearing, may lead to a new virus taking over.

'We've disrupted the whole system'

He told KentLive: "We have disrupted the whole system. The types or patterns of influenza may have changed due to the reduced spread.

"We may be confronted with something new which could result in people becoming seriously ill."

Flu seasons happen due to the spread of the influenza virus between humans.

The influenza virus is generally similar every year and once infected, people have long term protection against the same or similar viruses, preventing a pandemic from occurring.

Vaccines are produced based on previous flu seasons and normally keep the virus at bay in vulnerable people.

In recent years, the UK has seen reasonably low numbers of flu cases – Public Health England's respiratory datamart flu surveillance system detected no positive samples for flu between December 28, 2020 and February 14, 2021.

This was likely due to the measures put in place to stop the spread of coronavirus.

However the limited spread of the normal influenza strain may have led to a newer virus taking over, which could see flu cases skyrocket as social distancing ceases and our behaviour reverts back to how it was prior to Covid.

There have been more than 137,500 flu cases confirmed in Australia up to the start of September

Flu seasons tend to be worse when new strains of the virus are introduced to groups with little or no immunity.

Martin also noted that where influenza viruses circulating in the human population are normally closely monitored to predict which strains will be dominant in the next winter flu season, the reduced spread of flu this year has made monitoring harder.

This has therefore made it more difficult to determine the vaccine composition.

He added: "We may just get it wrong and the vaccines will not match.

"The risk that something unexpected and bad might happen is much higher."

According to Michaelis the flu kills an average of 20,000 people each year, and figures could be higher this winter as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

However he also stressed that flu seasons are based on probabilities and likelihoods, so there is also a possibility that we may see the same influenza strain we have been seeing for the past few years.

Original Article