Immune System

COVID-19: What Can We Expect for the Upcoming Cold and Flu Season?

A young girl blowing her nose with a tissue.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we were spared a strong wave of colds and flu – the numbers were far below the levels of previous years1. As result of the protective measures taken against COVID-19, we have given cold and flu viruses hardly any chance to multiply. Now, however, human interactions have significantly increased, many protective measures are no longer mandatory, and the number of people wearing masks continues to decrease. How does this affect our immune system and what should we be prepared for in autumn? 

COVID-19 measures are becoming fewer and interactions within family, friends and strangers are increasing. What does that mean for this year's autumn? Do we expect significantly more colds this year?  

The COVID-19 pandemic brought about historically low levels of cold and flu cases globally. This was primarily driven by COVID-19 mitigation measures such as mask mandates, quarantines, travel restrictions, social distancing, and increased public awareness to hand hygiene practices. In addition, in many countries the number of influenza vaccinations increased during 2020-2021 compared to 20192, which may have also contributed to reduced flu illnesses.  

The viruses that cause colds and flu are only able to spread from person to person when people are in close contact with each other, in crowded spaces, or come in contact with surfaces contaminated with the virus.

Experts predict that COVID-19 will lose its pandemic status in 2022 with increasing vaccination and boosters and development of antivirals for COVID3. As a result, we can expect further increase in population mobility and relaxation of COVID-19 mitigation measures. This is why cold and flu cases are predicted to bounce back from pre-pandemic lows. In fact, the flu activity in the US and Australia this season is already higher than it has been from the start of the pandemic4. 

Reports are showing the season for respiratory infections has apparently shifted forward. How does this relate to the COVID-19 pandemic? 

According to the Washington Post, “COVID is making flu and other common viruses act in unfamiliar ways.” For instance, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) has been infecting people outside of the normal winter months, and rhinovirus has been unusually sending people to the hospital. COVID can be to blame for these changes, because the mitigation measures taken during the pandemic also limited our exposure to other viruses.  

When you catch a cold or flu, your immune system learns to respond better the next time it comes in contact with that virus. In other words, your immune system is boosted from each viral exposure.  

Kizito Kyeremateng
The nearly absent cold and flu infections during the pandemic means that we were not been getting the regular boosts to our immune systems. Now, if you get exposed to these viruses after a long time, your immune system may not be able to protect itself as well. For this reason, we may be entering a more severe cold or flu season this upcoming fall.
Dr. Kizito Kyeremateng
Doctor of Pharmacy and Associate Director, US Medical Affairs at Bayer working in the Consumer Health division

What can I do to protect myself against the cold and flu?

There are some things you can do to both protect yourself and strengthen your immune system.  

Take every day preventative measures such as avoiding close contact with people who are sick, cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze and cough, proper washing of hands with soap and water and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. In the case of the flu, yearly vaccinations are recommended. When you want to do more, following a healthy lifestyle is a good choice to keeping your immune system strong: Eat healthily, get enough sleep, make sure to exercise regularly and try to reduce stress. These simple steps help to keep the immune system strong and healthy. 

Bayer’s efforts in this space

The human immune system is truly remarkable, but while it carries out its work, symptoms can be felt all over the body. With science, we can help alleviate these symptoms to relieve suffering and improve lives. At Bayer, we design products that alleviate the multiple symptoms caused by the cold and flu. Our trusted brands provide nasal congestion relief, one of the most bothersome symptoms of colds and multi-symptom relief, treating the many symptoms of early and full-blown colds, such as sore throat, headache, runny nose, sneezing, cough, fever and body aches.

5 min read