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Flu season almost non-existent during COVID pandemic

Whether or not it was social distancing or extra folks getting their pictures, the flu season has just about disappeared at a time when it usually hits its peak.

NEW YORK — February is normally the height of flu season, with medical doctors’ workplaces and hospitals filled with struggling sufferers. However not this 12 months. Flu has just about disappeared from the U.S., with studies coming in at far decrease ranges than something seen in a long time.

Consultants say that measures put in place to fend off the coronavirus — masks carrying, social distancing and digital education — have been a giant consider stopping a “twindemic” of flu and COVID-19. A push to get extra folks vaccinated towards flu in all probability helped, too, as did fewer folks touring, they are saying.

One other doable rationalization: The coronavirus has basically muscled apart flu and different bugs which might be extra widespread within the fall and winter. Scientists do not absolutely perceive the mechanism behind that, however it could be in step with patterns seen when sure flu strains predominate over others, mentioned Dr. Arnold Monto, a flu professional on the College of Michigan.

Nationally, “that is the bottom flu season we’ve had on document,” based on a surveillance system that’s about 25 years outdated, mentioned Lynnette Brammer of the U.S. Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention.

Hospitals say the same old regular stream of flu-stricken sufferers by no means materialized.

At Maine Medical Heart in Portland, the state’s largest hospital, “I’ve seen zero documented flu instances this winter,” mentioned Dr. Nate Mick, the pinnacle of the emergency division.

Ditto in Oregon’s capital metropolis, the place the outpatient respiratory clinics affiliated with Salem Hospital haven’t seen any confirmed flu instances.

“It is stunning,” mentioned the well being system’s Dr. Michelle Rasmussen.

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The numbers are astonishing contemplating flu has lengthy been the nation’s greatest infectious illness risk. In recent times, it has been blamed for 600,000 to 800,000 annual hospitalizations and 50,000 to 60,000 deaths.

Throughout the globe, flu exercise has been at very low ranges in China, Europe and elsewhere within the Northern Hemisphere. And that follows studies of little flu in South Africa, Australia and different international locations in the course of the Southern Hemisphere’s winter months of Could via August.

The story after all has been totally different with coronavirus, which has killed greater than 500,000 folks in the US. COVID-19 instances and deaths reached new heights in December and January, earlier than starting a latest decline.

Flu-related hospitalizations, nevertheless, are a small fraction of the place they’d stand throughout even a really gentle season, mentioned Brammer, who oversees the CDC’s monitoring of the virus.

Flu demise knowledge for the entire U.S. inhabitants is tough to compile shortly, however CDC officers maintain a operating rely of deaths of youngsters. One pediatric flu demise has been reported to this point this season, in contrast with 92 reported on the similar level in final 12 months’s flu season.

“Many dad and mom will inform you that this 12 months their children have been as wholesome as they’ve ever been, as a result of they’re not swimming within the germ pool at college or day care the identical approach they have been in prior years,” Mick mentioned.

Some medical doctors say they’ve even stopped sending specimens for testing, as a result of they do not suppose flu is current. Nonetheless, many labs are utilizing a CDC-developed “multiplex check” that checks specimens for each the coronavirus and flu, Brammer mentioned.

Greater than 190 million flu vaccine doses have been distributed this season, however the variety of infections is so low that it’s troublesome for CDC to do its annual calculation of how effectively the vaccine is working, Brammer mentioned. There’s merely not sufficient knowledge, she mentioned.

That is also difficult the planning of subsequent season’s flu vaccine. Such work normally begins with checking which flu strains are circulating around the globe and predicting which ones will possible predominate within the 12 months forward.

“However there’s not numerous (flu) viruses to take a look at,” Brammer mentioned.

The Related Press Well being and Science Division receives help from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Division of Science Schooling. The AP is solely accountable for all content material.

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