A bad flu season and a new wave of COVID could combine to cause a “twindemic’ this winter which would overload the NHS, experts have warned.
Data from the Southern Hemisphere, which is used as an indicator for the UK, has predicted a surge in flu cases a couple of months earlier than usual, the Mirror reports.
This uptick, driven by under-30s, could lead to more people being admitted for flu in hospitals from October.
There is a potential this spike in admissions may stress the NHS, which is struggling to deal with record backlogs caused by the pandemic.
It comes as UK Health Security Agency warned we could expect to see growing cases of COVID-19 along with an increase in respiratory infections in the coming weeks.
Dr Simon Clarke, associate professor in cellular microbiology at Reading University, said: “We’ve never had a [flu and Covid] dual outbreak so I’m concerned this UK season could be particularly bad.
“Catching flu and Covid together is particularly dangerous.
“We have the NHS under huge pressure as it catches up [from the pandemic] so you have a problem there.”
Dr Jamie Lopez Bernal, consultant epidemiologist for immunisation and countermeasures at the UK Health Security Agency, added: “With respiratory viruses increasing in circulation in the winter months we can expect to see growing cases of Covid-19 in the coming weeks.
“We urge all who are contacted to come forward and accept their booster when called for their jab.”
COVID-19 infections in the UK have dropped to their lowest level for nearly 11 months.
A total of 944,700 people in private households are estimated to have had coronavirus in the week to 28 August, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
It is the lowest UK-wide total since the week to 2 October 2021, when the number was 942,600.
Infections hit 3.8 million in early July this year during the spread of the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants, but have been on a broadly downward path in recent weeks.
The flu jab is offered annually to people in at-risk groups, with those not in these groups able to purchase the vaccine privately, should they wish to do so.
But the Department of Health and Social Care confirmed to GP magazine Pulse that there are no plans to mimic this programme with a COVID vaccine, with supplies only available through the NHS.
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People aged 65 and over can now book their COVID-19 autumn booster jab.
Appointments are also open for carers and pregnant women.
People aged 75 and over, the severely immunosuppressed and frontline health and care workers have been able to book a booster since last week.
Bookings can be done online or over the phone, as long as the person had their last Covid jab at least three months ago.
An autumn booster will eventually be offered to everyone aged 50 and over.