COVID-19 and flu are co-circulating this year for the first time and those who catch both are twice as likely to die, early evidence suggests.
Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), also warned that there could be multiple strains of flu ahead of an uncertain winter.
Speaking to Trevor Phillips on Sunday, she said: “The important thing about this winter is that we are likely to see flu, for the first time in any real numbers, circulating with COVID – so the risk of catching them both together still remain.
“And if you do that, early evidence suggests you are twice as likely to die from having two together than just having covid alone.”
She added: “It’s an uncertain winter ahead, we do know that flu cases have been lower in the previous years – so immunity and the strain types are a little more uncertain.”
“Because we’ve almost skipped a year with flu, it’s possible we might see multi-strain flu.”
Ms Harries said there are four strains in the flu vaccine this year, “so we’ve got a pretty big array in our toolbox to hit whichever one becomes dominant, but it could be more than one this year, and people’s immunity will be lower”.
“The real trick here is to get vaccinated in both COVID and flu and continue to do those good hygiene behaviours that we’ve been practising all through COVID.”
On average, over the past five years, about 11,000 people have died with flu-related conditions, however, the Academy of Medical Scientists have predicted that up to 60,000 could die with flu this year.
While the elderly are more vulnerable to infection and hospitalisation, Ms Harries encourages young people to take up the vaccine.
“Our highest rates of COVID at the moment are in the 11 to 14-year-olds, though that does look to be stabilising now.
“And we need to bear in mind we are proactively preventing infections in young people by offering testing to try and reduce the likelihood of infection.”