Last year, we were spared a strong wave of colds and flu – the numbers were far below the level of previous years1. And that's no wonder: due to COVID-19 and the protective measures taken, we have given cold and flu viruses hardly any chance to multiply. Thanks to vaccinations, restrictions are slowly being relaxed again in many countries. What does this mean for the upcoming cold and flu season and how can we strengthen our immune system?
We talked about this with Dr. Kizito Kyeremateng, Doctor of Pharmacy and Associate Medical Director at Bayer in the Consumer Health division.
Mr. Kyeremateng, is this year’s cold and flu season expected to be worse than normal and what does COVID-19 have to do with it?
When we look back, there’s one clear observation: The beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic brought about historic low levels of cold and flu cases during the 2020 until 2021 season globally. This was primarily driven by COVID-19 mitigation measures such as wearing masks, quarantines, travel restrictions, school measures as well as increase in public awareness to hand hygiene practices.
The viruses that cause colds and flu illnesses 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.
Recently, we have observed governments from across the world loosening up the COVID-19 mitigation measures and, therefore, an increase in population mobility. People start traveling more again, going back to the office and school, and free time activities such as going to stadiums and restaurants are in many places possible again.
These are reasons, why cold and flu cases are predicted to bounce back from pre-pandemic lows in the upcoming season. Also, experts predict that the upcoming cold and flu season will be worse than normal due to the negative impacts of over a yearlong quarantining on our immune system.
Why can cold symptoms be much more severe than in recent years?
The function of our immune system is to defend us against threats such as an invading virus. Every year when you catch a cold or flu, aside from being sick from it, our immune system learns to respond better the next time it comes in contact with that virus. In effect, your immune system is boosted from the exposure. This means that the next time you get exposed may not result in an infection or if the infection occurs it may not be as severe.
The nearly absent cold and flu infections in the community over the past year of quarantining means that we have not been getting the regular boosts frin exposure to our immune systems. This is why experts predict that when we do get exposed this upcoming season, our body may not be able to mount a strong response. This could lead to the development of a more severe cold or flu.
What can I do to protect me 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.
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.
Dr. Kizito Kyeremateng has a Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Biology and a Doctor of Pharmacy degree. As a pharmacist, he counseled patients on proper use of medications as well as providing disease education. In 2017, he received his post-doctoral training at Rutgers University Institute of Pharmaceutical Industry Fellowship before joining Bayer Consumer Health in the Global Medical Team. Dr Kyeremateng is currently an Associate Director, Global and U.S Medical Category, Allergy, Cough & Cold.
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