Wearing masks, distancing, closing businesses holds flu season at bay

All of the measures taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 may have had unintended consequences — and positive ones at that. They are being heralded for nearly stopping flu season.

In Riverside County for the 2020/2021 season thus far, there have been four cases that required ICU treatment and zero flu associated deaths. The cases are only from individuals aged between 0 – 64 years old.

For the 2019/2020 season, there were 71 cases that needed ICU treatment and five flu associated deaths for individuals aged between 0 – 64 years old, according to Brooke Federico, public information officer for Riverside County.

Keep in mind that primary influenza season for Riverside County is from Oct. 1 through April 30 and we are not yet out of flu season.

“Social distancing and facial coverings work for lots of other diseases, too, which may explain why the flu season has been much milder this time,” Dr Cameron Kaiser, Riverside County public health officer, told Uken Report. “The winter COVID-19 surge has been bad enough by itself. Combined with higher-than-normal flu shot rates nationwide, mercifully the flu does not appear to have made a terrible situation even worse.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that as of January 30, there have been just 1,316 positive flu cases in its clinical surveillance network since September. Around this time last year, it had tallied 129,997 positive flu cases in the same time frame.

Some of the drop may be because people aren’t going in and getting tested for the flu, or they’re staying home fearing their symptoms might be a Covid-19 infection. But researchers think the decline in actual cases is real and steep.

It’s not just confirmed cases that are down. The CDC’s syndromic surveillance system — which tries to track the disease based on people showing up to clinics with symptoms — is showing historically low levels of the flu.

The number of confirmed flu samples in the CDC’s surveillance network. These numbers are more of a snapshot of the seasonal trend; they aren’t meant to be a comprehensive tally of everyone who has the flu in a given season.

Last flu season, the CDC estimated the virus was responsible for “38 million illnesses, 18 million medical visits, 405,000 hospitalizations, and 22,000 deaths.”

The flu trends of this year mean “we have found a way to potentially decrease tens of thousands of deaths each year,” Seema Lakdawala, a flu researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, told Vox.





Image Sources

  • Influenza: Shutterstock