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Amid COVID-19, a Stunning Reversal in Flu Seasons Around the World

December 07, 2020

Where have you gone, flu season? In the Southern Hemisphere, case numbers were so low that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the season ended with "virtually no influenza circulation." In Europe, which faces an immense COVID-19 threat this winter, only one person was diagnosed with flu from Sept. 28-Nov. 22, according to a joint monitoring program called Flu News Europe operated by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and the World Health Organization. Flu activity in the United States, as in Europe, typically peaks between December and February. Early reports here are also encouraging: Public health and clinical laboratories nationwide have reported fewer than 500 cases and no deaths since Sept. 27, says the CDC. In Connecticut, the state Department of Public Health has not released a formal report but says "statewide influenza activity continues to be low." The dramatic drop in flu cases has been attributed to social distancing, masks, school closures, remote learning and other COVID-19 safeguards. The flu vaccine, of course, remains a primary safeguard. If you haven't gotten your vaccine yet, it's not too late. (To find out where to get a flu shot near you, click here.) "The CDC cautions that infections may increase," says Dr. Virginia Bieluch, Chief of Infectious Diseases at The Hospital of Central Connecticut in New Britain, "and everyone is urged to continue to follow the recommended practices to control both COVID-19 and influenza and to be vaccinated for influenza." The seasonal flu and COVID-19 are contagious respiratory diseases, though caused by different viruses. Influenza viruses cause the flu. A new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, causes COVID-19. COVID-19 spreads more easily than the flu and can cause more serious illness, especially among the elderly those with a weakened immune system or other medical condition. “A healthy body does better with (the flu) disease process, and we’ve seen this," said Keith Grant, Hartford HealthCare's Senior System Director of Infection Prevention. Respiratory droplets produced when a infected person coughs, sneezes, talks or breathes can spread either virus. The CDC's recommendations for avoiding COVID-19 are also effective against the flu:

  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Keep at least 6 feet from people in public who are not household members.
  • Always wear a mask in public when close contact with other people is unavoidable.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched hard surfaces in your home every day.
  • Monitor your health. A  fever, cough, or shortness of breath could be an early sign of either flu or COVID-19.