While the coronavirus was spreading rapidly throughout the world last year, another virus’s trajectory was halted because of measures taken to mitigate COVID-19.
Before the flu season, which typically starts in October and peaks between December and February, medical experts expressed concerns of a “twindemic” in which hospitals were overwhelmed from flu and coronavirus cases. But flu cases have been at a shocking low rate this year compared to past seasons.
Flu activity for the season as a whole is the lowest it has been in 25 years, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). So far this flu season, more than 650,000 people have been tested for the flu, according to data from the CDC. And of those 650,000 tests, only 1,499 have come back positive. Meanwhile, there have been only 183 hospitalizations for the flu between October 2020 and February, 2021.
It is likely that measures taken to slow the spread of the coronavirus, like mask wearing, social distancing, an emphasis on sanitation and more, contributed to low flu numbers this season. Children being out of schools and offices and other close contact buildings being closed may have also contributed to low flu cases.
While all of those measures made an impact on the flu season, a more traditional effort to slow the virus also contributed — flu vaccines. According to the CDC, the United States surpassed its highest number of flu vaccine doses distributed in a single season by Jan. 15. During the 2020-2021 flu season, around 193 million flu vaccines were administered. Around 20 million less vaccines were administered during the 2019-2020 flu season, according to the CDC.
Flu vaccines are proven to reduce the risk of flu illness, hospitalization and death. The CDC reported that during the 2019-2020 flu season, flu vaccination prevented around 7.5 million influenza illnesses, 3.7 million influenza-associated medical visits, 105,000 influenza-associated hospitalizations and 6,300 influenza-associated deaths.
Flu cases haven’t just been low in the United States. Globally, flu trends are similar to flu cases in the United States. In southern hemisphere countries, flu season typically takes place during our summer months. Cases of the flu were low in those countries, which may further prove that efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus contributed to low flu numbers.
Pandemics usually change the ecology of viruses. During the 2009 flu pandemic, other viruses like respiratory syncytial viruses were low because the population was exposed to the flu. Being exposed to the flu helped the public gain an immune response which can sometimes cause other viruses to not be as prominent.
Getting a flu vaccine is an effective way to avoid serious illness and to avoid getting sick. COVID-19 has devastated many a family, changed our lifestyles and has taught us not to take anything for granted. On a positive note, mask wearing, social distancing and frequent hand washing appear to have contributed to our overall physical health.