How to gear up for what could be the first real influenza season in two years.

Since 2020, COVID-19 has arguably been the nation’s biggest health concern. The highly contagious airborne virus can make people very ill and has an extremely high mortality rate. To keep from catching it, people began washing their hands religiously, distancing themselves socially, sanitizing their surroundings regularly, and racing to be vaccinated as soon as shots were available. However, there’s another dangerous respiratory virus that’s been around much longer than COVID-19. In fact, from the fall of 2019 through the spring of 2020, this virus infected approximately 35 million people, killing about 20,000, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That virus is influenza—more commonly called the flu.

The effects of COVID-19 on the flu

With all the attention given to COVID-19, the dangers of the flu have been somewhat ignored the past couple of years. Yet, since the viruses are transmitted in similar ways, measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, including disinfecting and sanitizing, have drastically reduced the number of flu cases. According to the CDC, there were only 2,038 cases and 700 flu-related deaths reported during the 2020–2021 flu season, compared to the 35 million cases and 20,000 deaths from the previous flu season. But as the pandemic waned and the preventative measures in place to protect us against COVID-19 were relaxed, those numbers began to rise. The CDC estimates that between 8 million and 13 million people have contracted the flu since 2021, with as many as 14,000 dying from the disease. Health officials are preparing to see numbers rise again for the 2022–2023 season and are reminding people that they need to get their annual flu shot to protect themselves and slow community-wide spread.

Help slow the spread

Vaccinations are just part of the battle against the flu. It’s also important to reduce the amount of the virus in our surroundings. Infected people spread the flu by coughing, sneezing, and touching surfaces. According to a report by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), influenza viruses can survive on hard surfaces like stainless steel and plastic for 24 to 48 hours. On soft surfaces like cloth, paper, or tissue, they survive between 8 to 12 hours.

Many commercial cleaning companies added disinfecting and sanitization services to their offerings during the pandemic to reassure their clients they were doing everything possible to fight COVID-19. With coronavirus continuing to pose a risk and the flu season approaching, these services are more important now than ever.

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