COVID-19 precautions have knocked out a lot of things over the last year, from family outings to fans in the stands for sporting events. Add something else to the list: a flu season.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. typically has about 45 million influenza cases each year, with 810,000 people hospitalized and 61,000 deaths. Since the monitoring period began in October, the number of people testing positive for the flu is stunning: less than 2,000.
The flu season usually peaks in late February. This year, there were 32 flu cases reported in the week ending Feb. 27. In most seasons, around 200 children die from the flu. This year, there has been one pediatric flu death reported.
As you might expect, experts say mask wearing, social distancing and hand hygiene practices adopted to battle COVID-19 are behind the low numbers. Although caused by a different virus, the flu is also a respiratory disease, so everything we are doing to slow transmission of the coronavirus works to protect us from influenza.
Plus, more people are getting a flu shot, schools and many businesses are meeting virtually instead of in-person, and fewer people are traveling.
This good news comes with a caveat: Experts say next year’s flu season might be more severe. That’s because fewer people are getting exposed or infected by the flu virus this year, so they won’t become immune to certain strains of the flu. Plus, mask-wearing and social distancing are likely to be greatly relaxed, if not discontinued, next season.
If all of us retain the good health habits we’ve practiced during the pandemic, we may be on the way to making influenza history.