Flu season ‘starting a bit slowly’ as COVID-19 cases rise

Coronavirus

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — It’s a new number every day; sometimes it’s big, sometimes it’s small, but each day the amount seems to be more sobering than the last.

As COVID-19 continues to surge across the country, doctors say there’s one set of numbers that remains low.

“It’s starting a bit slowly, which is a good thing,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, talking about influenza in the United States.

The Tennessee Department of Health’s latest data shows just three of Tennessee’s 95 counties have had at least one flu case in the last few weeks. The same time last year, 12 of Tennessee’s 95 counties had at least one confirmed case.

“The flu is fickle,” said Dr. Schaffner, “Sometimes, it starts earlier, sometimes it starts later.”

The CDC shows since late September, 93,482 people have been tested for the flu at clinical labs, at public labs, 85,746 people have been tested, with 262 and 49 samples testing positive, respectively.

“If all of us, or many of us, wear masks, social distance, that will probably help us flatten the flu curve,” said Dr. Schaffner.

It’s what he and other health experts believe helped the southern hemisphere nearly avoid influenza all together.

“Our friends in Australia and New Zealand who had their winter during our summer had a very low flu season, but they attribute it to two things, they used more flu vaccine than they ever have before and in those countries those populations were very compliant with mask wearing and social distancing,” said Dr. Schaffner.

The Centers for Disease Control, writing in a recent report, that only 33 influenza positive test results were detected among 60,031 specimens tested in Australia.

Back here at home, the agency found the percentage of U.S. respiratory specimens submitted for influenza testing that tested positive decreased from >20% to 2.3% and has remained at historically low inter-seasonal levels (0.2% versus 1–2%).

The global decline in influenza virus circulation appears to be real and concurrent with the COVID-19 pandemic and its likely associated community mitigation measures.

Dr. Schaffner said we’re not out of the woods, and is urging everyone get vaccinated for the flu and wear a mask.

“The two viruses are very different,” said Dr. Schaffner, “They’re both respiratory, but we have tests that can clearly differentiate the two, so flu is not being mistaken as COVID. COVID is real, COVID is bad, Flu is coming.”

Stay with News 2 for continuing coverage of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

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COVID-19 in Tennessee

(This reflects what the TDH is reporting each day at 2 p.m. CST )

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