July 20, 2022 – An alarming spike in COVID-19 and flu cases in Australia could put the U.S. on track for what health experts call a “twindemic” – a dangerous viral one-two punch in the months ahead.
It’s now winter in Australia, which is often a harbinger for the U.S. flu season. That country is having a massive wave of flu cases that have eclipsed pre-pandemic rates. Since mid-April, the island nation’s weekly number of confirmed cases has exceeded its 5-year average.
At the same time, Aussie health officials report that COVID-19 cases are skyrocketing as Omicron variants (including the highly transmissible BA.5 strain) continue to spread across the country.
These troubling trends in the Southern Hemisphere – combined with falloffs in vaccination, masking, and social distancing in the U.S. – are raising fears that Americans may face a similar twindemic this fall and winter, with another major COVID-19 wave along with a bad flu season.
“We’ve been predicting that the U.S. could be hit with this twindemic of influenza and COVID for the last couple of years, but it did not materialize before, in large part because influenza was relatively under control,” says Leana Wen, MD, an emergency doctor and public health policy professor at George Washington University. “But now, with people returning to pre-pandemic normal [activities] and with less immunity to influenza because of the lack of recent infection, we could see that twindemic this year.”
- The Australian flu season, which typically runs from June to September, started unusually early this year – in April – and has already peaked months ahead of what is typically seen.
- A massive surge of cases – 187,431 infections and 113 deaths so far – suggests this year’s flu strains are circulating widely in the Southern Hemisphere and infecting people who have not built up natural or vaccine-acquired immunity. Since mid-April, the weekly number of cases has exceeded Australia’s average over the past 5 years.
- Australian health officials are also seeing a new rise in COVID-19 cases largely due to the Omicron variants – with more than 47,000 new cases reported each day. That’s up 62% since February.