COVID-19 prevention may strongly cut flu risk

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In a new study, researchers found very low rates of influenza as cases plummeted during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic.

They found the 2019-2020 flu season ended weeks earlier than usual this year, with flu infections declining sharply within two weeks of the COVID-19 emergency declaration on March 1.

They believe the social distancing measures put into place across the country last spring kept more than the new coronavirus at bay.

The research was conducted by a team from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the study, the team found influenza activity in the United States plunged, from about 30% of samples testing positive for flu in early February down to only 2% the week of March 22.

By comparison, previous flu seasons in the United States have extended into April and even May.

Because influenza and COVID-19 are transmitted in a similar fashion, it is expected that community mitigation for one will have an impact on the other.

The team also found flu cases have also stayed unusually low during the summer. Only 0.2% of samples have tested positive for influenza on average in the United States, compared with 1% to 2% in previous years.

They say these numbers should calm public health experts worried about a potential “twindemic” of COVID-19 and influenza cases swamping U.S. hospitals this fall and winter.

If most people employ the tactics that prevent COVID-19 infection, they’re probably also keeping themselves safe from the seasonal flu.

Based on data from “sentinel” countries in the Southern Hemisphere that enter their flu seasons earlier than the United States, it appears that COVID-19 prevention measures could indeed blunt the coming 2020-2021 season in America.

Australia, Chile and South Africa all showed incredibly low flu activity between June and August, the months that constitute their typical influenza season, the researchers found.

One author of the study is Dr. Amesh Adalja.

The study is published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

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