WHO calls for increased Influenza testing as flu season approaches

While efforts are being focussed on mitigating the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the World Health Organisation (WHO) is calling on governments around the world not to turn a blind eye to influenza (flu) testing, especially as some countries in South America and other parts of the southern hemisphere are entering their ‘flu’ season.

“We know that there is going to be an influenza season every year. We need this [testing] information for vaccine development. These systems must remain functioning in addition to COVID-19,” said Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, the technical lead of WHO’S COVID-19 response.

She also indicated that several countries around the world are utilising their influenza systems for COVID-19 testing which has resulted in a significant decline in influenza testing.

“It is important that we do not stop testing for the flu, we must continue to test for flu as well as COVID-19. We know that in a number of countries the tests for flu has declined. So, it’s very important that countries remain and utilise their system for COVID-19 but also influenza,” Dr. Kerkhove stated.

“There are risks associated with COVID […] and there is also the risk for non-COVID related diseases and that is why we must maintain essential health services.”

Dr. Michael Ryan, Executive Director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme noted that the cycle of the southern hemisphere’s influenza season differs for some countries.

The Executive Director stated that while some parts of the southern hemisphere, like Australia and Argentina, will experience an influenza season similar to that of the north, influenza in more temporal part/ tropical parts of the region “is not that predictable and tends to persist throughout the year.”

It was also pointed out that while there may be various implications there is currently no evidence to suggest how the flu will directly impact the coronavirus.

“Right now, we have no data to suggest if the virus will behave more aggressively or [be] more transmittable or not,” Dr. Ryan said.

However, a call was made for increased surveillance of influenza and for public health measures to stay in place as research continues to develop.