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UK warns of tough flu season as COVID cases also rise

British public health experts are warning that flu could be a serious health threat this winter, with population immunity at an all-time low and people weary of getting vaccinated after the pandemic.

Experts are forecasting that the flu strain seen in Australia this past winter, known as H3N2, is likely to also spread across the Northern Hemisphere.

“The H3N2 flu strain can cause particularly severe illness,” said Susan Hopkins, chief medical advisor at the U.K. Health Security Agency.

In an average winter without pandemic restrictions, around 11,000 people in the U.K. die from flu.

This winter, immunity levels are down after consecutive seasons of low flu infections. Added to this, health experts are concerned that people are weary of multiple vaccinations, due to the pandemic, and fewer are coming forward for flu shots.

The UKHSA is particularly concerned about pregnant women and toddlers, most of whom will never have come into contact with the virus.

Last year, only half of eligible kids aged 2 and 3 got a flu jab, and less than 38 percent of pregnant women. These rates contrast with the record uptake of the flu jab in people aged 65 and over last year, at over 82 percent.

In addition, COVID-19 variants are continuing to evolve. Health experts are urging people over 50 and vulnerable individuals to come forward for their booster, as well as their flu jabs, which can be given together. The U.K. is offering boosters that target the first Omicron strain and the Wuhan strain.

“Flu and COVID-19 are unpredictable but there are strong indications we could be facing the threat of widely circulating flu, lower levels of natural immunity due to less exposure over the last three winters and an increase in COVID-19 circulating with lots of variants that can evade the immune response,” said Hopkins.

“This combination poses a serious risk to our health, particularly those in high-risk groups,” said added.

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