Middle Tennessee sees lowest flu season, doctors say COVID pandemic may be the reason behind it


SMYRNA, Tenn. (WKRN) – In a normal year, February would be a peak month for the flu, but like much of the past year the flu season isn’t immune to change.

Considered a silver lining coming out of the pandemic, clinics are seeing a record low number of flu infections, some of the lowest the nation has seen in decades.

Doctor Colleen Tran is an Emergency Room Physician at TriStar StoneCrest and says around this time of year, the hospital is normally packed full of people either waiting for a flu test or being treated for the virus.

“This season has been very different. We’re not seeing nearly as much,” explained Dr. Tran. “I can’t even think if I’ve seen one during this typical season.”

We asked Dr. Tran to explain the reason behind the low numbers. She says one of the biggest reasons is linked to a majority of children learning virtually. Doctors say schools have been a breeding ground for the flu, but children are now not around each other on a daily basis during the pandemic.

“We’re not seeing as many kids in school. Those tend to be big vectors for transmitting influenza, and really just using personal protective equipment and social distancing has been the biggest help,” explained Dr. Tran.

The CDC reported there had been only 1,316 positive flu cases at the end of January 30. Normally around this time of year, they would have already logged 129,997 positive cases.

“I think we’re going to see this throughout the year. We are going to see it kind of controlled and then kind of blow-up for a bit and then come back down,” said Dr. Tran.

Another reason for the drop in cases maybe because we aren’t going in and getting tested for the flu.

“Could it be getting mixed in with what we are calling possible COVID? Yes, we’re not testing as much for influenza because we’re focusing on COVID more,” said Dr. Tran.

Dr. Tran says with so much focus on COVID-19, the flu season has been pushed on the back burner, leaving more hospital beds and equipment for COVID-19 patients.

While the low flu numbers are a welcomed relief for healthcare workers who were preparing to juggle between the ongoing pandemic and the seasonal flu, doctors worry we could see a number of cases next year.

As the state slowly loosens restrictions, doctors warn it could take a toll on the body, with children going back to school, and adults skipping a year of flu vaccines.

Doctors are encouraging people to carry over some of the COVID-19 precautions into the next year, like washing hands frequently and staying home if you’re sick.

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