USA TODAY – As COVID-19 raged last year, the seasonal flu all but vanished, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
During the 2019 flu season from Sept. 29 to Dec. 28, the CDC reported more than 65,000 cases of influenza nationwide.
During the same period last year, the agency reported 1,016 cases.
Health experts said that high vaccination rates against the flu – combined with social distancing, mask-wearing and hand-washing employed to stop the spread of the coronavirus – played a huge role in preventing influenza transmission.
The significant drop occurred despite a six-fold increase in testing at public health labs, most of which checked for influenza A and B along with COVID-19.
Clinical lab testing was slightly lower during the last quarter of 2020 as physicians ordered fewer flu tests because less of the illness was circulating.
CDC spokesperson Kate Grusich told USA TODAY:
“The public health labs test for more surveillance purposes rather than patient care reasons and are therefore a better measure of influenza burden each season than clinical labs.”
While many experts are relieved to see public health measures working against flu spread, they also say it speaks volumes about the transmissibility of COVID-19.
Dr. David Hooper, chief of the infection control unit at Massachusetts General Hospital said:
“It says that it’s more contagious and that it’s less forgiving of any lapses of these types of prevention measures.”
Hooper said one reason the coronavirus is more transmissible is because people can shed the coronavirus days before exhibiting any symptoms, if they develop symptoms at all.
A model developed by CDC researchers and published Thursday in JAMA Network Open found that people who don’t show symptoms may be responsible for 59% of COVID-19 transmissions, comprising of 35% who are presymptomatic and 24% who never develop symptoms.
People generally don’t shed flu virus for more than a day before symptoms appear, Hooper said …
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