Though the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread throughout the U.S., health officials reported a virtually “nonexistent” influenza season.
Officials prepared for the possibility of a “twin pandemic” involving COVID-19 and influenza, University of Wisconsin Health said, though data shows it seems to have not arrived.
“While we are not out of respiratory season yet, UW Health data shows there have been virtually no local flu cases this year,” UW Health officials said.
One year ago, UW Health reported seeing more than 1,000 positive cases of influenza. This year, data shows just one person has contracted the flu in the area.
Wisconsin health officials credited the drop in cases to “precautions people were using to stay safe from COVID-19,” such as wearing a mask, social distancing, washing hands and staying home when sick.
“The decline in flu numbers is encouraging because I think it would have been worse if we had high numbers of COVID-19 cases coinciding with influenza cases,” Dr. Nasia Safdar, medical director of infection control at UW Health, said. “In light of this sharp drop in flu cases, the public might consider wearing masks in public during flu season in the future, regardless of the COVID-19 situation.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also reported that influenza activity is “currently low” in the U.S. and globally. Health officials said following widespread community mitigation measures to curb COVID-19 cases, positive influenza tests went from over 20% to 2.3%.
Based on health data, the CDC said interventions aimed to halt coronavirus transmissions, in addition to the flu shot, could “substantially reduce influenza” in the 2020 – 2021 season in the Northern Hemisphere.
According to CNBC, World Health Organization officials said in December that the coronavirus is mutating “at a much slower rate” than seasonal influenza, even as officials in the U.K. explained that a new mutation of the virus is allowing it to spread more easily.
Seasonal influenza mutates so often that scientists have to regularly develop new vaccines to inoculate the population against the virus every year. U.K. officials have told the WHO that the Covid-19 vaccines appear to be just as effective against the new strain, but more research is needed. While all viruses naturally mutate, not every mutation makes a virus more contagious or more virulent.
“SARS-CoV-2 is mutating at a much slower rate than influenza,” WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said at a press briefing. “And so far, even though we’ve seen a number of changes and a number of mutations, none has made a significant impact on either the susceptibility of the virus to any of the currently used therapeutics, drugs, or the vaccines under development, and one hopes that that will continue to be the case.”