It was going to be the double whammy, health experts in federal and state government said back in the fall. But the anticipated and feared “double pandemic” of the seasonal flu and COVID-19 never happened.
Instead, the Centers for Disease Control has reported a significant drop in flu cases and flu-related deaths in 2020. In the period from October 2020 to February 6, 2021, there have been just 165 laboratory-confirmed flu cases in all of America. That’s a sharp drop from 400,000 in the 2019-2020 season a year earlier.
How many people had the flu during the 2020-2021 flu season?
“A total of 165 laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated hospitalizations occurring between October 1, 2020, and February 6, 2021, were reported by FluSurv-NET sites for an overall cumulative hospitalization rate of 0.6 per 100,000 population,” the CDC reported. “This is lower than average for this point in the season and lower than rates for any season since routine data collection began in 2005, including the low severity 2011-12 season. Hospitalization rates stratified by age will be presented once case counts increase to a level that produces stable rates by age.”
Flu already in decline prior to COVID-19
Last year, 22,000 Americans died from the flu. This flu season, only four, so far. Of the 593,570 specimens tested since September 27, 2020, only 1,364 tested positive nationwide.
The CDC estimates that the burden of illness during the 2019–2020 season was moderate with an estimated 38 million people sick with flu, 18 million visits to a health care provider for flu, 400,000 hospitalizations for flu, and 22,000 flu deaths.
Why has the flu virtually vanished in 2020-2021?
But, why has the flu virtually disappeared? Experts cite several reasons. The seasonal flu was already in decline in the 2019-2020 season. The CDC said when COVID-19 struck, patients were no longer going to the doctor for routine flu symptoms and respiratory illness. From March 1st through May 16th of 2020, reported flu cases had declined 98%. COVID-19 safety precautions have also been credited to the near eradication of the flu this year. Hand washing, wearing face masks, social distancing and the closure of businesses and schools, the CDC says all played a part in the diminished spread of the flu.
“Where extensive community mitigation measures are maintained (e.g., face masks, social distancing, school closures, and teleworking), those locations might have little influenza circulation during the upcoming 2020–21 Northern Hemisphere influenza season. The use of community mitigation measures for the COVID-19 pandemic, plus influenza vaccination, are likely to be effective in reducing the incidence and impact of influenza, and some of these mitigation measures could have a role in preventing influenza in future seasons,” the CDC speculated.
In the U.S., a nearly 3% spike in influenza vaccines has been recorded.