The autumn rollout of the Covid and flu vaccines will generally involve everyone eligible for both jabs receiving them at the same time. Now a leading testing expert says that, ironically, if you have had a case of Covid recently, you could already be protected against a serious influenza infection.
The leading testing expert, Dr Quinton Fivelman PhD, Chief Scientific Officer at London Medical Laboratory, says: ‘Finally, there may be a silver lining to the pandemic cloud. There’s strong evidence that catching the latest Omicron variants of Covid can protect you from serious influenza. However, that does not apply to previous Covid variants such as Delta.
‘Earlier this year, London Medical Laboratory noticed a correlation between the patients who reported catching Covid and extremely low influenza infection rates. However, because flu cases are lower during the warmer months this was difficult to verify.
‘Now, however, research from Professor Martin Michaelis and teams from the University of Kent and from Germany show a direct link between catching the latest Omicron variants of Covid-19 and gaining protection against flu. It seems a response from the body caused by fighting the Omicron variant also stops the influenza virus from replicating.
‘The new study “Omicron inhibits influenza A virus infection” shows that Omicron BA.1 and BA.5 (currently the commonest sub-variant) induces a pronounced interferon response that suppresses influenza A virus replication. Influenza Type A is, by far, the most common cause of flu in humans.
‘Interferons are proteins that tell our immune system that viruses such as Omicron are in our body, triggering immune cells to fight those invaders. They are called interferons because they ‘interfere” with viruses and cancer cells and stop them from multiplying.
‘Intriguingly, the study also reveals that these interferons are not created in response to previous versions of Covid, such as Delta. However, both Omicron sub-variants tested caused the production of biologically active type I and III interferons and protected cells from super-infection with influenza A viruses.
‘The study makes the same connection as London Medical Laboratory’s own observations that, while influenza-like illnesses surged during the Delta wave in England, their spread rapidly declined upon the emergence of Omicron.
The findings are particularly relevant in the light of analysis of Covid statistics by the “Financial Times” in March this year, which found that the combination of high levels of immunity and the reduced severity of the Omicron variant has rendered Covid-19 less lethal than influenza for the vast majority of people in England.
‘However, that does not mean that we should consider Omicron to be in any way safer or somehow preferable to influenza. The latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) research shows that Omicron is just as likely as previous Covid variants to lead to cases of long Covid, with 34% of all long Covid cases having developed during the Omicron-era. Last week alone, 597 people died within 28 days of a positive Covid test. The good news is that, if you are unfortunate enough to catch Omicron, the interferons your body produces could well protect you against a severe case of flu.
‘The new Omicron interferon study was posted to the bioRxiv preprint server this month and has not yet been peer reviewed.
‘For anyone who remains concerned about their Covid antibody levels and how effective their inoculations have been, taking a quantitative antibody test is recommended. The new generation blood tests available from London Medical Laboratory are highly accurate, quick and simple to carry out, either at home through the post, or at one of the many drop-in clinics that offer this test across London and nationwide.’