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The UK is experiencing what appears to be “the worst cold of all time”: what we can expect from respiratory illnesses after COVID

“The worst cold of all time.” With that leit motif And for weeks, the British press has been talking about the rise in respiratory infections that have affected the country with the arrival of autumn. Above all, because the widespread perception that colds are being stronger than usual is putting a question on the table: What if, after 18 months of social isolation, many wonder, our immune systems have weakened?

Despite the fact that the beginning of the school year has returned us to the usual suspects, the truth is that in a Spain that still maintains a very high level of restrictions, the debate about the next season of winter diseases is still beginning. Because, looking at what happens on the other side of the English Channel can be a good thermometer of what is to come.

The return of the common cold

There is no new virus in town: According to Public Health England, the country’s public health agency, the diseases have returned, yes; but there is no new virus circulating that can explain the perception of greater virulence of the cold. And, in this, PHE are quite reliable because they genetically sequence many more viral samples than the average of neighboring countries. During the pandemic, we have seen that most variants were detected in the United Kingdom precisely because of this.

An outdated immune system? That is what some experts are pointing out in the UK. For all practical purposes, it is as if these 18 months of social isolation had been 18 months in which our “antivirus” had not received updates. As they return to normal life, many people have more problems than usual with (variants of) viruses that normally would not have made them sick. It also opens the door to co-infections: something also quite uncomfortable.

UK is not alone: On the contrary, countries like Hong-Kong or New Zealand have also suffered quite aggressive outbreaks of common respiratory diseases when they have been recovering normal life.

What does all this say? In principle, that autumn / winter can be a difficult time for primary care. At the moment (and with the current data) it seems to be part of the process of freeing ourselves from social distancing measures: the process by which our immune systems are “updated” after these months. However, we must not lower our guard: the influenza vaccination campaign and epidemiological surveillance will be very important to prevent this transition from being primed with the most defenseless.

Image | Kelly Sikkema