Anthony Fauci, MD, has served as the face of the country’s COVID response since the pandemic first began in 2020. But the public health figure’s work extends far beyond just that: Fauci has served under seven U.S. presidents, helping lead the country through numerous health crises, including the AIDS epidemic. It was at that time that he became the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). But after decades working to keep Americans safe and healthy, Fauci is hanging up his hat. Before he does that, the virus experts has some final warnings for what the future holds. Read on to find out what Fauci just sounded the alarm on—and it’s not COVID.
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Fauci has been hinting at his possible exit for at least a month. But on Aug. 22, the infectious disease expert confirmed in an announcement that he will be stepping down from his positions in the federal government. According to the statement, Fauci will be leaving his role as director of the NIAID after 38 years, along with his position of Chief Medical Advisor to President Joe Biden. The public health figure said he will be “leaving these positions in December of this year to pursue the next chapter” of his career.
“It has been the honor of a lifetime to have led the NIAID, an extraordinary institution, for so many years and through so many scientific and public health challenges. I am very proud of our many accomplishments,” Fauci said in his statement. “While I am moving on from my current positions, I am not retiring. After more than 50 years of government service, I plan to pursue the next phase of my career while I still have so much energy and passion for my field.”
In an Aug. 31 interview with Bloomberg, Fauci warned that the U.S. should be prepared for a “pretty bad flu season” later this year. According to the infectious disease expert, this will coincide with ongoing COVID cases this winter, right as he steps down from office.
“We should be prepared for that, superimposed upon what I hope is the residual and not another spike of COVID,” Fauci told the news outlet. “We better pay attention.”
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According to Fauci, the Southern Hemisphere sees new strains of flu appear before we do every year—and the region has already experienced a more severe season than it usually gets. Australia is nearing the end of its worst flu season in five years, with influenza cases surging in the country for the first time since the pandemic began, NBC News reported. Australian public health officials expect to see record-setting levels of infections, which Fauci said has prompted concern in the U.S. about a potentially severe seasonal influenza here this fall and winter.
The departing NIAID director told Bloomberg that Americans should get flu shots when they become available. He also said that new COVID boosters tailored toward the latest Omicron variants could help prevent a dangerous combined spike of both COVID and flu this year, noting that he hopes the U.S. continues to innovate and improve vaccines over time.
“One of the mistakes we’ve made is that we concentrate on the problem that’s right in front of you, and put off focusing on what might be a problem in the future,” Fauci told Bloomberg.
The exact impact of the seasonal flu is hard to pinpoint, and it can change from year to year. But overall, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that from 2010 to 2020, the flu has resulted in between 9 million and 41 million illnesses annually in the U.S. Out of this, the agency estimates that the virus results in between 140,000 and 710,000 hospitalizations each year, with annual deaths ranging from as low as 12,000 to as high as 52,000.
“Seasonal flu is associated with large numbers of hospitalizations. These estimates of flu-related hospitalizations highlight flu’s potential severity, and that being sick with flu can also make some health conditions worse (such as lung disease) or lead to other complications that require hospitalization,” the CDC explains. “Flu vaccination is the first and best way to prevent flu and its serious complications.”