Did Coronavirus Wipe Out the Flu Season?

February 20, 2021 Topic: Public Health Region: Americas Blog Brand: Coronavirus Tags: FluFlu SeasonCoronavirusCOVID-19Face Masks

Did Coronavirus Wipe Out the Flu Season?

Because of anti-coronavirus measures, flu cases were down worldwide.

The Centers For Disease Control (CDC) said last week that, as of the end of January, there were 1,316 positive flu cases since September. That’s compared to 129,997 positive cases of the flu the year before. 

What’s the difference? The coronavirus, obviously. 

According to Vox, there are a few different reasons for the low number of flu cases. Obviously, fewer people are out and about than usual. Most years, almost no one wears masks or socially distances, while this year, many people do. And the flu is clearly less contagious than coronavirus is. 

And also, when some people may have gone to work or kept previous social engagements while sick with the flu, the experience of coronavirus has likely encouraged people to have the possibility of transmission at the top of their mind. Moreover, the flu is often passed by children to each other, but because of the coronaviru in most of the country schools are either closed or subject to social distancing measures. 

FiveThirtyEight also recently looked at the lack of flu this year, and it noted that the lack of flu transmission this year is a worldwide phenomenon. 

“We don’t track the flu the way we track COVID-19,” that report said.”The average seasonal flu exists in a weird liminal space, serious enough to keep an eye on, but also not so serious that we are literally trying to count every single case. After all, most people who get sick with the flu won’t even bother to go get tested for it. They’ll have a couple bad days in bed (if they’re able to take off work) and otherwise go about life basically unchanged.”

Last fall, there was frequent worry that once the winter hit, it would lead to an especially terrible few months as coronavirus and flu struck at the same time. But the flu side of that never quite materialized. 

“Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, reducing the spread of respiratory illnesses, like flu, this winter is more important than ever. CDC has worked with vaccine manufacturers to have extra flu vaccine available and a record number of flu vaccine doses has been distributed in the U.S,” the CDC said. 

This does not mean, contra frequently spread conspiracy theories, that coronavirus “is” the flu, or that what normally is counted as flu cases are being counted as coronavirus. While the two diseases have some similarities and cause some of the same symptoms, they are not one and the same, as coronavirus is much more deadly and much more frequently spread. The CDC has a page listing the key differences between the two diseases. 

Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.

Image: Reuters.