Flu season will be 'much worse,' up to 400K additional hospitalizations predicted, study says

SAN FRANCISCO -- Doctors warn this flu season will be a bit of a doozy.

"It's going to be bad," said UCSF Infectious Disease Dr. Peter Chin-Hong. "We predict there are going to be a lot more flu cases, people getting infected, but also people getting hospitalized."

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Chin-Hong expects we will see far more flu cases this winter than COVID cases.

Two studies, not yet peer reviewed, but recently published in the medical preprint database MedRxiv predicted the same. One study that analyzed population immunity for the flu across several decades suggested there could be an additional 100,000 to 400,000 flu-related hospitalizations this season compared to an average year.

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"I think the estimates are right on target," said Chin-Hong. "But it comes with some level of uncertainty about how bad it could be... but that it will be worse for sure."

How much worse? Chin-Hong says it's still unclear since we don't have population immunity from the flu last year.

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"The reason why we are not sure is because we don't have information from other parts of the world, because not everyone had bad flu last year," said Chin-Hong.

Usually scientists will look at flu cases in the Southern Hemisphere where the winter season just ended to help predict what may happen in the U.S.

"Empirical data from the Southern Hemisphere shows that flu rates have remained at historically low levels in Australia and most of the Southern Hemisphere," said UCSF Infectious Disease Dr. George Rutherford.

Rutherford is hopeful our current flu season won't be as bad as we think. He highlighted an example out of Australia where there's only been 483 cases, no deaths, and fewer than 10 percent of flu tests were positive throughout their entire winter season.

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"That's very low activity," Rutherford said. "If we can get by with something like that, I'd be very happy that we've dodged a bullet."

But as the saying goes, he added 'anything can happen' - we can't be too careful.

"Everyone needs to get their flu shot and their COVID booster," he said. "Because if we do have a COVID surge and a flu surge on top of it. It creates all sorts of extra pressure on hospitals."

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