The former deputy chief medical officer for England warned that the UK faces an "uncertain" winter – with both flu and Covid-19 circulating for the first time – and urged people to take up both the coronavirus and flu jabs if eligible.
People who catch flu and Covid at the same time this winter are twice as likely to die than those who only have coronavirus, according to the UK Health Security Agency chief executive, Dr Jenny Harries.
"But I think the important thing about this winter is, we are likely to see flu, for the first time in any real numbers, co-circulating with Covid.
So I think the real trick here is to get vaccinated in both Covid and flu, but obviously to continue to do those good hygiene behaviours that we ’ ve been practising all through Covid", Harries added.
Asked how worried the public should be about flu this winter, she told Sky's Trevor Phillips On Sunday : "We should be worried about flu each winter.
' I think people still don't realise it can be a fatal disease and recent figures suggest that about 25 per cent of us don't actually understand that and over the last five years about 11,000 have died with flu-related conditions.
'so the risks of catching both together still remain and if you do that, then early evidence suggests that you are twice as likely to die from having two together than just having covid alone.
"So I think it's an uncertain winter ahead – that ’ s not a prediction, it ’ s an uncertain feature – but we do know that flu cases have been lower in the previous year so immunity and the strain types are a little more uncertain," she said.
Harries said there are four strains of virus in this year's flu vaccine, after taking advice from the World Health Organization ( WHO ), the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation ( JCVI ) and looking to countries in the southern hemisphere, where winter and therefore flu season arrives earlier.
She said : 'We 've got a pretty good array in our toolbox to try and hit whichever one becomes dominant but it could be more than one this year, and people's immunity will be lower.
She said that on average, about 11,000 people will die from flu each year.
"The difference here is because we have, if you like, skipped a year almost with flu, it's possible we might see multi-strain flu – we usually get one strain predominating," she added.
harries also said the dominance of the delta variant globally has led to other strains "becoming extinct", but warned we still need to "stay alert".
the nhs plans to immunise a record 35 million people against influenza, its most ambitious programme of flu jabs in its history.
Frontline health and social care workers, pregnant women, people aged 50 and over, clinically vulnerable people, and school children up to year 11 are eligible for free flu jabs.
It comes as medics in the US encourage people to get both a COVID and flu shot to avoid a "twindemic" this winter.
She has also advised workers to avoid the traditional approach of "grinning and bearing illness" and instead stay away from the office if they are feeling unwell this winter.
On the subject of many people no longer working from home, she said it's "likely we would see more cases over a short period of time" depending on what precautions people were taking like face coverings.
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