Since the novel coronavirus began its global spread, influenza
cases reported to the World Health Organization have dropped to
minuscule levels. The reason, epidemiologists think, is that the
public health measures taken to keep the coronavirus from
spreading also stop the flu. Influenza viruses are transmitted in
much the same way as SARS-CoV-2, but they are less effective at
jumping from host to host.
As Scientific American reported last fall, the drop-off in
flu numbers was both swift and universal. Since then, cases have
stayed remarkably low. “There’s just no flu circulating,” says
Greg Poland, who has studied the disease at the Mayo Clinic for
decades. The U.S. saw about 600 deaths from influenza during the
2020-2021 flu season. In comparison, the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention estimated there were roughly 22,000 deaths
in the prior season and 34,000 two seasons ago.
These numbers are just ridiculous. It goes to show how much more contagious COVID is than influenza — COVID continued to wreak havoc in the face of precaution that practically eliminated spread of the flu. And it also shows how in the early days of the pandemic — like in New York City here in the U.S. — having no precautions in place allowed COVID to spread like wildfire.
Questions: Will masking during flu season remain a thing here in the U.S.? We know now that COVID spreads primarily through aerosols, but how much of this reduction in influenza is thanks to increased handwashing and sanitizing? I love the idea of making hand sanitizer dispensers at store entrances standard.