Influenza diagnosis important as winter flu season approaches, WHO warns

People receives flu vaccine at the Museum of science and technology in Milan, Italy, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020. (Credit: Keystone/ AP Photo / Luca Bruno)

WHO’s technical lead, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, warned the northern hemisphere to continue influenza testing.

As predictions of a difficult winter in the northern hemisphere mount, with Covid-19 infections rapidly increasing, the World Health Organization (WHO) has urged countries to test for influenza alongside coronavirus in order to be sure that people who fall ill get the proper treatment.

Treatment of coronavirus is very different from that of flu. Therefore accurate diagnosis is critical to make sure that people get the right diagnosis and thus potentially life-saving treatment for both, WHO said. Widespread vaccination can also help health systems avoid the double whammy of treating people seriously ill with both seasonal flu and Covid-19 at the same time.

“We don't yet know how the influenza season will unfold,” said WHO's Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, Health Emergencies Technical Lead, speaking at a recent media briefing. But at least in terms of flu vaccine rollout, she added: “The good news is that we are prepared for this.”

“There is substantial work underway to ensure that patients enter the correct clinical care pathway as they enter the public health system,” Van Kerkhove stated.

WHO reasserted today that surveillance systems are in place to help identify which influenza viruses are circulating, and suggested that countries be proactive in testing for the virus during the Covid-19 pandemic to prevent overwhelming healthcare systems with late or misdiagnoses.

The warning comes as the United States and countries across Europe reached record numbers of new daily reports of Covid-19 cases.

Restrictions that have been implemented to restrict the spread of SARS-CoV-2 will also be beneficial in curbing the spread of influenza, but diagnosis of these illnesses could present a significant challenge as both viruses share similar symptoms. Because of this, testing and identifying which virus a patient has will be vital in making sure they receive appropriate care.

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