The return of the snotty nose: colds out of control?

Is the immune defense overwhelmed?

“The fact that things are starting again and the ordinations are filling up is very typical,” says Edgar Wutscher, General Practitioner Section Chairman. Andreas Krauter, chief physician of the ÖGK, considers the situation to be exceptional. The immune defense is untrained because of strict hygiene measures. “The immune system builds up the necessary defenses through contact with pathogens.” Krauter anticipates a more intense cold and flu season. “Mainly because schools are open again and travel is again possible without restrictions.”

“On average, as an adult you have two to three colds a year, as a child five to eight,” says Burgmann. “In the first Corona autumn 2020, the transmission routes were able to get through the reduction of contacts, wearing a mask and keeping your distance successfully interrupted. “With good effects on the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus, and even more pronounced on the spread of other cold viruses. When it comes to colds, it will probably be back to normal in the coming months.

Is our immune system fully able to cope with the virus normality again? And what does that mean for the upcoming flu season? Infectiologist Burgmann provides answers to these questions in an interview.

DELIVERY MAN: In 2019 – before the outbreak of the pandemic – there were around 6,000 fewer cases of cold at this time. How can this be explained?

Heinz Burgmann: This is not unusual. The number of flu-like infections fluctuates from year to year. It depends on many factors, such as the weather. Cold makes it difficult for the immune system to fight cold viruses and can promote infections.

Keyword immune system: Some experts assume that our immune system is out of practice due to the corona isolation during virus defense.

What is fundamentally true: If you have not had contact with certain viruses for a long time, it can take longer before it can actively fight off the respective pathogen again. However, the immune system is very complex. It is doubtful whether a year off training is enough to leave a lasting mark on a relevant number of infectious agents. Serious assessments will only be able to be made after the season has ended.

Studies suggest that colds caused by other coronaviruses could help reduce SARS-CoV-2 infections. Does it work both ways?

This is about cross immunity – a form of immunity in which contact with one pathogen simultaneously induces immunity against another similar pathogen. It may be that our immune system remembers infections with other coronaviruses when infected with SARS-CoV-2, and vice versa. However, if you look at the history of the pandemic, the effect does not seem to be significantly large.

Researchers at the US Northwestern University think it is conceivable that the Covid vaccination could provide some protection against coronaviruses of other types.

The available Covid-19 vaccines are specifically tailored to the spike protein on the virus surface of SARS-CoV-2. With it, it docks to the cells that it is attacking. It seems unlikely that such immunity against other, similar coronaviruses will be built up. But there are also whole virus vaccines in development, for example that of Valneva. Whole inactivated viruses are used. It creates a different form of immune defense that could theoretically be effective against other coronaviruses.

When the first symptoms appear, there is concern about a corona infection. And the delta variant causes symptoms that are even more similar to colds than previous variants.

I would say that it was very difficult to differentiate based on symptoms from the start. That has by no means improved with Delta. Only a PCR test can provide certainty. To control the infection process, it is currently still important to identify corona infections as such. In the future, when SARS-CoV-2 is no longer a pandemic pathogen, it will take a back seat.

There are currently only a few cases of flu in Austria. Will existing corona measures dampen the flu again, or will the pathogen hit us particularly hard this year?

The southern hemisphere is a barometer for the flu season in our latitudes. Australia has had a mild influenza season this year. It is not yet possible to give exact forecasts for Europe. In my opinion, how the coming months, especially December and January, will turn out to be very much dependent on the behavior of the population. The fact is that smaller children have never had contact with the pathogen because of the failed flu season and are more susceptible. They’re the driving forces behind the flu. Once the virus circulates, it can grow into a violent wave. It is therefore important to monitor the situation in and around Austria.

Do you advise against the flu vaccination?

In any case. It is an effective prophylaxis, especially, but not only, for risk groups.

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