December 7, 2020 -- Flu cases are down this year because of a number of factors, including an early influx of people who took flu vaccines and coronavirus precautions such as social distancing, face masks and fewer social gatherings.
In Georgia, the most recent weekly update on flu-like illnesses showed that reported cases are at a nine-year low, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In mid-November, three people were hospitalized with the flu in the Atlanta metro area, as compared with 88 people who were hospitalized at the same time last year.
“I am not sure if [vaccines and COVID protocols] will delay the peak or not, but it has delayed the start of flu season,” Snehal Doshi, vice president of pharmacy and lab services at Wellstar Health System, told the newspaper. Doshi said the health system has seen fewer cases than usual.
The CDC has also reported that seasonal flu activity in the U.S. is lower than usual for this time of year.
“Flu activity is unusually low at this time but may increase in the coming months,” according to the CDC’s FluView, which was last updated on Friday.
Throughout the fall, public health officials urged Americans to get a flu vaccine to avoid a “twindemic” that could occur if both the flu and COVID-19 overwhelmed hospitals. Pharmacies and health care organizations ordered more flu vaccines this year to prepare for a surge.
“I’ve given more flu vaccines this year than I ever have in my nursing career,” Wendy Daniels Allard, a MinuteClinic nurse in Atlanta, told the newspaper. “I would have families come in for vaccines. They would just make it a family affair.”
During the next few months, doctors and health care workers are urging the same precautions to keep both flu cases and COVID-19 cases low:
- get a vaccine
- wear a mask
- avoid gatherings as much as possible
“Handwashing, clearly masking, not sharing your virus with others is effective for COVID and it's also effective for flu,” Donald Whiting, chief medical officer for Allegheny Health Network, told Action News 4 in Pittsburgh.
Pennsylvania has also seen fewer cases this year, the news outlet reported, with only 12 hospitalizations and one death so far during the current flu season.
“The flu has not been what it was in previous years,” Whiting said. “In the entire state, I think there are 426 total confirmed cases.”
During last year’s flu season, which ran from Oct. 1 to April 4, the U.S. recorded more than 400,000 hospitalizations and more than 20,000 deaths, according to a CDC estimate.
Flu cases remained low throughout the Southern Hemisphere’s flu season between June and August, which could bode well for the Northern Hemisphere this winter, according to TIME.
Even still, public health officials are carefully monitoring flu cases alongside COVID-19 cases since it’s possible for people to catch both at the same time — or one after the other.
“There is some data that we are concerned about that one virus may be causing an environment in the lungs that makes it easier for the other virus to infect,” Tim Uyeki, chief medical officer of the CDC’s flu division, told the magazine.
“There is much speculation about that right now, and it’s serious enough for us to pay attention to co-infections and monitor them carefully as we enter the winter season,” he said.