Is Europe's Current Covid Wave a Harbinger for America?
You've probably heard that tourism slogan. It's used to entice people to visit the Nevada city where anything goes. And it implies that visitors needn't worry about the consequences of their behavior.
Now, I'm not going to comment on that, but I will say the same cannot be said for Europe. Almost every time something starts spreading around Europe, it reaches our shores before too long.
Many of us may be grateful this trend held true during the Sixties when the British music invasion brought us the Beatles and other bands. But when it comes to illnesses… not so much.
'We Have to Be Prepared'
As Europe heads toward winter, Covid infections, hospitalizations and deaths are rising across the continent. Especially in the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Germany. Here in America, we've been experiencing the opposite recently. Our numbers have been falling for weeks now.
But if what happens in Europe doesn't stay in Europe, we could be in for another Covid surge, according to healthcare officials. Throughout the pandemic, patterns in America have generally followed those that began in Europe.
Michael Osterholm is director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. "In the past, what's happened in Europe often has been a harbinger for what's about to happen in the United States," he said.
"So I think the bottom line message for us in this country is: we have to be prepared for what they are beginning to see in Europe."
Wastewater Samples Might Be Telling
The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) reported "widespread increases" in all of the key Covid indicators across the continent. Such as infections, hospitalizations and deaths.
Recent warnings about a potential rise in Covid cases, hospitalizations and deaths here have come from the World Health Organization.
There are two major concerns in the U.S. One is the amount of virus found in wastewater samples. They are on the rise in parts of the Northeast and Midwest. Including New York, Connecticut, Michigan and Illinois.
Two is the fact that a number of mutated Omicron offshoots are gaining ground across the country. Many of them seem to be able to avoid protection offered by vaccination or previous infection.
Less Testing = Less Information
A significant percentage of Americans (about 30%) chose not to start or complete a primary round of immunization against Covid for a variety of reasons.
And less than one-half of those who were vaccinated received a booster shot. Only about 5% of Americans have been vaccinated with the latest booster designed to provide protection against both the original strain and the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants.
While infection numbers are up in Europe, it may be difficult to get a solid grip on how bad the situation is or might become. Most countries have scaled back on both rapid and laboratory Covid testing.
Even the statistics regarding hospitalizations and deaths could be misleading. Some people who are admitted to hospitals for other reasons may test positive but have few if any Covid symptoms.
Flu Could Rival Covid This Season
Due to all the publicity Covid has received the last three years, information about influenza has taken a back seat.
Health officials in Europe and America are concerned that could change this fall, winter and spring. Many of the precautions people took due to Covid – increased hand washing, mask wearing and social distancing – also helped cut down on the spread of flu the past few years.
But with considerably fewer precautions being taken now, it's likely flu will become a bigger factor again. The CDC says early increases in seasonal influenza have been reported in most of the U.S. Especially in the southeast and south-central areas.
An estimated 9 to 41 million Americans are sickened by the flu each year, with between 12,000 and 52,000 deaths.
The main concern is that the combination of Covid and seasonal flu – as well as the rise of RSV that is mainly affecting children – could present a big challenge to the healthcare system that has had problems replacing many workers who quit at the height of the pandemic.
Seniors Should Be Extra Careful
As many of us painfully recall, seniors were among the most vulnerable individuals when Covid made its presence felt in the U.S. in 2020.
The same thing seems to be happening now in Europe during this current wave. During a recent week, Covid activity rose 14% in those 65 and older.
Seniors are also accounting for the greatest number of new hospitalizations in Europe. Especially among those 85 and older.
Susan Hopkins is the chief medical officer for the UK's Health Security Agency. "Outbreaks in hospitals and care homes are also on the rise," she said.
Not even the wisest medical experts can say for sure what will occur in America as colder weather sets in and people spend more time indoors.
But signs are pointing to a potential surge of respiratory illnesses. So please take whatever precautions you believe are necessary to stay healthy.