What happened to the seasonal flu?

Health

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — As Coronavirus cases to rise, many are asking what happened to the seasonal flu? With the CDC saying flu activity at this time is unusually low.

“Activity is strikingly low in Tennessee and all across the country,” said Vanderbilt University Medical Center Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. William Schaffner. “The few cases we have seen have been Influenza B, those are the dominant cases, but they’ve been very few so far.”

During the 2019 flu season, from late September to late December, the CDC reported more than 65,000 cases of influenza nationwide. During that same period in 2020, the agency reported a little more than a thousand cases.

Closer to home, the Tennessee Department of Health shows just two of the state’s 95 counties reported one or more cases of influenza in the last week, that was as of week 53, from December 27, 2020 to January 2, 2021.

Influenza is not a reportable disease in Tennessee, however, deaths from influenza among children and pregnant women are reportable. The TDOH says there are currently no reports of death among those populations for the current influenza season.

“If you look historically, over the last 20 years, there are plenty of seasons when flu numbers are extremely low,” said Dr. Aaron Milstone from Williamson Medical Center.

But this year, we saw a lot of variables that likely caused a change.

“This year, we distributed more flu vaccines across the country, and administered more flu vaccines than any other time point in the history of the vaccine,” said Milstone.

The latest data from the CDC shows more than 192 million people were vaccinated for the flu across the country. The same time last year, just 171 million people had been vaccinated.

In addition, Milstone and Schaffner the flu activity to the effect of social distancing and wearing masks. If that’s the case, though, why are we still seeing problems with COVID-19?

“The reason we’re seeing more covert than flu is because COVID is more contagious than flu. So, the things we’re doing can dampen down flu, but they don’t dampen down COVID as much,” said Schaffner.

Schaffner added that the fact that kids are staying home from staying school and wearing masks may also be contributing to the major decline in flu cases.

“The big distributor of the influenza virus in our communities is children. Those children are staying at home,” said Schaffner, “They’re doing virtual learning, or if they’re in school, they’re social distancing and wearing masks and children are the great distributors of influenza virus, not COVID. Adults transmit the COVID.”

However, doctors say we’re not out of the woods yet and must remain vigilant. They encourage everyone to wash their hands frequently, cough into their sleeve, stay home when sick, and get a flu shot.

“I think it’s too early; I think the jury is still out I think the flu is still lurking out there,” said Milstone.

Though flu cases are minimal now, they could ramp up within the next few weeks.

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