Every influenza season brings with it uncertainty about what strain will predominate and how severe it will be. While much of the world still is focusing on COVID-19, the potential for another serious influenza season can’t be ignored, and the strain on the health care system of 2 epidemics could be severe.1
As the SARS-CoV-2 virus continues to spread across the country, the 2020-2021 influenza season will be particularly challenging.1 Recent influenza seasons have been particularly serious: 2017-2018 was one of the deadliest in decades, with an estimated 61,000 deaths, and 2018-2019 was one of the longest flu seasons, lasting 21 weeks.2
The 2019-2020 influenza season was on a trajectory to be particularly severe, especially for children because of a high prevalence of influenza B cases.3 However, the season ended 5 to 6 weeks earlier than anticipated after control measures were put in place to prevent COVID-194; even with the shortened season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated 34,157 deaths, which was on par with the number of cases from 2018-2019.2,3
Although influenza viruses cannot be controlled directly, there are several measures that can be taken to help mitigate the severity of the influenza season.
In March 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced a Global Influenza Strategy for 2019-2030 aimed at “protecting people in all countries from the threat of influenza.”5 The goals include the prevention of seasonal influenza, the control of spread from animals to humans, and preparation for the next influenza pandemic.5
Many pandemic control measures learned by studying the 1918, 1957, 1968, and 2009 influenza pandemics are being used for COVID-19 and will continue to be used during the influenza season this fall. However, as stay-at-home orders are lifted and children return to school, these measures may not be effective at preventing a serious influenza season.
It is especially important for everyone, especially those at high risk for influenza and COVID-19 infection, to receive an influenza vaccination this season and use nonpharmaceutical prevention strategies, such as frequent hand hygiene, masking, voluntary home isolation for ill people, respiratory etiquette, and frequent cleaning of surfaces. These measures should be followed year-round by everyone, especially during influenza season, to limit the transmission of infection.6 These interventions are most effective when implemented in combination, for example, hand hygiene and wearing a face covering.7