The arrival of seasonal influenza in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which adds more than 800,000 infected and more than 83,000 deaths, has brought together two diseases that, due to their severity and lethality, have created tension in the public health of Mexico .
“If these diseases get mixed up, there will be extra hospital pressure,” explained Dr. Alejandro Macías. And he warned that “no country is prepared for a syndemic”, referring to the sum of two or more epidemics or disease outbreaks in a population.
At the end of September, Hugo López-Gatell, Undersecretary of Prevention and Health Promotion, affirmed that in all countries “there is the possibility that during the cold season of the year, which is precisely that of influenza, there may be a rebound in the epidemic “of COVID-19.
He warned that there would be a gradual increase in cases and the peak will be between December and January. And then the decline will begin, he said.
Roxana Trejo, manager of the Epidemiology Unit of the ABC Medical Center, explained that influenza and COVID-19 are different viruses, but that they behave very similarly, especially during the first symptoms.
However, he recalled, the coronavirus is more lethal and can damage not only the lungs but also the heart, kidneys, brain, among others. While influenza can be complicated in more age groups.
“The most vulnerable populations are children under the age of five, people over 60 and pregnant women,” he said.
In the last 2019-2020 influenza season, which closed last April, the number of reported cases was 1,212 with 45 deaths associated with this disease.
However, because the measurement is only in sentinel units (epidemiological surveillance), the real death toll from influenza each year, according to official figures, is on average between 15,000 and 18,000 people.
According to the expert, 90% of deaths are due to lack of vaccination.
For the specialist “the main challenge will be not to confuse one disease with the other”, with several similar symptoms.
Felipe Aguilar, medical manager of Sanofi Mexico, said that the only difference between these diseases is that for influenza there is a vaccine and a specific treatment. “So the only way to differentiate one from the other is to know whether or not the patient is vaccinated,” he said.
Faced with this convergence of diseases, for infectologist Juan Luis Mosqueda Gómez there are two major scenarios that can occur in Mexico.
“One, the most optimistic, is that what happened in the winter in the southern hemisphere during this pandemic happens. The data, for example, from Australia and Argentina, were that there were practically no cases of influenza in this last winter,” he remarked .
The specialist explained that this means that all the measures that were taken such as the use of a mask, social distancing and spending as much time at home as possible, “helped not only prevent COVID-19, but also the flu.”
And that could happen in Mexico, although the country is currently in its activity reactivation phase.
But the other scenario is that there is influenza as in every year and that people get one of the two diseases, or even both, making the diagnosis difficult.