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Expect Huge Influenza Rebound When COVID-19 Ends

Watch for large, delayed outbreaks of endemic diseases following COVID-19 controls |

Nov. 9, 2020

High Meadows Environmental Institute – Social distancing and mask wearing to reduce the spread of COVID-19 have also protected against many other diseases, including influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

But susceptibility to those other diseases could be increasing, resulting in large outbreaks when masking and distancing stop, say a team of Princeton University researchers.

Measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 through non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) such as mask wearing and social distancing are a key tool in combatting the impact of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. These actions also have greatly reduced incidence of many other diseases, including influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

Current reductions in these common respiratory infections, however, may merely postpone the incidence of future outbreaks, according to a study by Princeton University researchers published Nov. 9 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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First author Rachel Baker, an associate research scholar at the High Meadows Environmental Institute (HMEI) at Princeton University, said:

“While this reduction in cases could be interpreted as a positive side effect of COVID-19 prevention, the reality is much more complex.

“Our results suggest that susceptibility to these other diseases, such as RSV and flu, could increase while NPIs are in place, resulting in large outbreaks when they begin circulating again.”

Baker and her co-authors found that NPIs could lead to a future uptick in RSV — an endemic viral infection in the United States and a leading cause of lower respiratory-tract infections in young infants — but that the same effect was not as pronounced for influenza.

“Although the detailed trajectory of both RSV and influenza in the coming years will be complex, there are clear and overarching trends that emerge … ” Read more. 

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