Every year Americans are faced with flu season. While flu is often looked at as more of a nuisance than a risk, in 2018/2019 there were an estimated 34,000 deaths. However, with the precautions introduced to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, there was also a reduction in the spread of the flu. As a result, Colorado experienced a nearly “nonexistent influenza season”. (1, 2)

Flu Season Nonexistent

When you consider the steps we had to take to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, it should come as no surprise that we also helped contain the flu. According to doctors in Colorado and across the country, the restrictions during the pandemic have all but eliminated the spread of the flu. (2)

“I remember having discussions about this concern that there was going to be the potential for a nasty flu season to collide with the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Dr. Suchitra Rao, an associate professor of pediatrics in infectious diseases with Children’s Hospital Colorado. “Really what we’ve seen so far this season is really a nonexistent influenza season.” (2)

December Flu Season Nonexistent

As an infectious disease specialist Dr. Rao sees the flu season last anywhere from 12 to 16 weeks once it makes its appearance in December. However, this is not the case this year. Why? Social distancing, masks and handwashing did the trick. (2)

“There’s only been, say, 30 hospitalizations so far in the state of Colorado with the flu. Normally this time last year we would have seen hundreds into the thousands of hospitalizations,” says Dr. Rao. “It’s really been just a stark difference compared to what we traditionally have been observing.” (2)

Flu Season Nonexistent Amongst Kids

According to Dr. Rao there was a 30% increase in flu shots at Children’s Hospital Colorado as well. Add to this remote learning and the major spreaders of flu — kids are also taken out of the picture. (2)

“We do know that young children and schools are pretty major players when we talk about the transmission of flu in the community. So if we minimize that transmission, then that’s going to minimize that risk to the rest of the community,” says Dr. Rao. “The infection spreads amongst the kids and then can get to spreading amongst the adults as well.” (2)

Flu VS COVID-19

The reason the same precautions taken to reduce the spread of COVID is also effective in reducing the flu is that both are contagious respiratory illnesses. In the case of COVID-19 the infection is caused by SARS-CoV-2. Flu on the other hand is caused by influenza viruses. As well, COVID-19 can cause more serious illnesses and also take longer to go away. As a result, it means many people with COVID-19 remain contagious longer, and can spread the virus more easily. (3)

Looking to the future, some feel it’s possible the reduced cases this year could increase risk for a worse flu season next year. But there is no solid proof of this.  “The one thing that is really predictable about the flu season is just how unpredictable it is,” says Dr. Rao. (2)

The good news is, many of us might just have learned some important lessons about spreading germs. Hopefully we all continue to practice safe handwashing to help reduce the spread of flu in the future.

Sources:

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/index.html
  2. https://www.9news.com/article/news/health/colorado-nearly-nonexistent-influenza-season/73-d638d32e-1bd6-480b-8bcc-06ed7ea494d8
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/season/faq-flu-season-2020-2021.htm