Where is the Flu During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

The current influenza season has been overlooked this year mostly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The flu is still around, but it has not had the same focus it would receive during any other year. As of this writing, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that the 2020-2021 flu levels are much lower than they were in previous years by this point in the season. Why is that? Let us look at a few reasons why influenza numbers are down during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is not a large leap to conclude that one major reason for the dip in flu levels is from how we reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic in the beginning of 2020. The same lockdowns and encouragement of social distancing that were put in place to curb the spread of COVID also helped curb the numbers of positive flu cases.

More people have received the flu shot. According to the CDC, 192.5 million doses of the influenza vaccine had been distributed in the United States by January 1st, 2021. This is the highest ever distributed during a single flu season. The flu shot not only helps protect you and others from getting the flu, but also helps lessen flu symptoms if you do wind up contracting it. There are several reasons someone would want and get the flu shot and in 2020 and 2021 and wanting extra protection against COVID could have been a large driving factor in more people opting into getting vaccinated. The CDC has some evidence of this as they have reported a higher number of health care personnel have received the flu shot compared to previous flu seasons.

While similar in many ways, COVID has been shown to be more contagious than influenza. This is especially true with the new variant that was recently discovered in the United Kingdom. COVID-19 has been shown to have an incubation period of 2-14 days, which influenza’s is only 1-4 days. This means that someone who has COVID-19 is contagious for a longer period compared to if they would have influenza, thus lowering the flu’s chances of spreading.

It is important to remember that we are not out of flu season and that we reach the peak of the season during February. Flu rates could pick up, even if they are at levels lower than previous years. As you are doing with COVID, keep social distancing, wear a mask, stay six feet from others, and practicing good hygiene like washing your hands and avoiding touching your mouth, nose, and eyes. These same practices will help keep you healthy and avoid spreading any germs to others. Oh and getting your yearly flu shot would help too.

For more on the comparisons between COVID-19 and influenza, check out our blog on the subject.

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