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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 25th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Watch for colds and flu this winter?

25 February 2021

According to at least one report, the winter of 2021 could be a bad one for coughs, colds and flu.

Why?

Well apparently, due to all our social distancing and anti-Covid precautions, our immune systems have not been as challenged as they would normally be for the past 12 months. Indeed, I completely missed out on my normal winter cold last year, suffering not one single day of illness.

Researchers are predicting that this lack of exposure to the every-day viruses that often lay us low in winter will have weakened our defenses against such thing and we may pay a penalty this year as a result.

This story in ArsTechnica gives the background and predictions.

I certainly hope they're wrong because, like most people, I am not a fan of colds and other winter maladies.

If the experts are correct however, this winter could be a real mess, for a number of reasons.

Firstly, if colds and flu make a resurgence, capitalising on our poorly exercised immune responses to spread and wreak havoc on our bodies then the battle against CV19 will be made much harder. Everyone who presents with sniffles, sore throat, a cough or other cold-like symptoms will have to be treated as if they may actually have CV19 -- and that could put a huge burden on health services.

Even more worryingly is that many who may contract CV19 may think that they have nothing more than "that cold which is going around" and thus not take the necessary measures to isolate themselves and be tested. This could dramatically increase the rates of infection across the board.

Short of a massive vaccination campaign, the only viable response will be to go back into lockdown, both as a method of stopping the spread of CV19 and also as a way of reducing the spread of these other infectious agents.

Even with a widespread vaccination program in place, some strain of flu or a really nasty cold virus could leave us on the back foot because we never know when CV19 will mutate sufficiently to sidestep the vaccines we will be using. Despite being vaccinated against known strains of CV19 there is no guarantee that you won't catch a new mutated strain and simply think you have a cold.

If our health management experts think they've had a hard year in 2020 I expect that'll be nothing compared to what 2021 throws at them.

Personally, I'll be trying to keep my face-to-face interactions with others to a minimum for the next year or so. This is partly because I don't want to be exposed to CV19 (even if I'm vaccinated) and partly because I really enjoyed the joy that was a year without any form of runny nose, sore throat or cough.

Will I be doing the wrong thing?

Could dodging these annual viruses be weakening my immune system further?

Should I just bite the bullet and operate on the old addage "use it or lose it" when it comes to exercising that immune system and hope that what doesn't kill me only makes me stronger?

What will YOU be doing this winter? Will you welcome the annual cold/flu season for the work-out it will give your weakened immune system? Or will you take a more precautionary approach to avoiding exposure?

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