NEW YORK (AP) — February is usually the peak of flu season, with doctors’ offices and hospitals packed with suffering patients. But not this year.
Flu has virtually disappeared from the U.S., with reports coming in at far lower levels than anything seen in decades.
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Experts say that measures put in place to fend off the coronavirus — mask wearing, social distancing and virtual schooling — were a big factor in preventing a “twindemic” of flu and COVID-19. A push to get more people vaccinated against flu probably helped, too, as did fewer people traveling, they say.
Flu-related hospitalizations, however, are a small fraction of where they would stand during even a very mild season, said Brammer, who oversees the CDC’s tracking of the virus.
Flu death data for the whole U.S. population is hard to compile quickly, but CDC officials keep a running count of deaths of children. One pediatric flu death has been reported so far this season, compared with 92 reported at the same point in last year’s flu season.
“Many parents will tell you that this year their kids have been as healthy as they’ve ever been, because they’re not swimming in the germ pool at school or day care the same way they were in prior years,” Mick said.
Some doctors say they have even stopped sending specimens for testing, because they don’t think flu is present. Nevertheless, many labs are using a CDC-developed “multiplex test” that checks specimens for both the coronavirus and flu, Brammer said.
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More than 190 million flu vaccine doses were distributed this season, but the number of infections is so low that it’s difficult for CDC to do its annual calculation of how well the vaccine is working, Brammer said. There’s simply not enough data, she said.
That also is challenging the planning of next season’s flu vaccine. Such work usually starts with checking which flu strains are circulating around the world and predicting which of them will likely predominate in the year ahead.
“But there’s not a lot of (flu) viruses to look at,” Brammer said.