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Coronavirus Protections Cause Flu Cases To Plummet

Graphic showing county influenza activity across the state of Florida
Florida Department of Health
County-by-county data shows low levels of influenza across Florida as the state enters the peak of flu season.

Experts say precautions put in place to stop the spread of the coronavirus have caused a dramatic drop in cases of the flu, both in Florida and across the country.

Cases of the flu typically spike in Florida and around the country during January, but this year levels of the virus are extremely low.

And health experts say precautions put in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus are likely the reason.

Normally during January in Florida, about 5% of visits to emergency rooms and urgent care centers result in a positive flu diagnosis. This year, that number is well below 1%.

There have only been 1,103 confirmed positive cases of the flu reported in the United States since tracking began in late September, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At the same time last year, that number exceeded 70,000, the CDC reported.

Health experts believe that fewer people are getting sick because they are practicing habits that would keep them from getting the coronavirus.

“Everything that is happening -- the lack of tourism, the lack of travel from other places, the lack of inter-Florida movement, restaurants being a little bit less than you would normally have, all of these restrictions and people wearing masks -- all of that stuff is leading to reductions in transmission,” said Eili Klein, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University.

Florida health experts warned of a possible “twindemic” at the start of the flu season, citing concerns over how an influenza outbreak, coupled with the coronavirus pandemic, could overwhelm the state’s hospital capacity. Since then, the number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 has increased steadily, with 7,367 as of Tuesday.

Klein said the low rates of the flu are allowing medical professionals to focus on the coronavirus pandemic. He worries, however, that a lack of exposure to influenza this year could mean people do not have the immunity to fight new strains of the flu next year.

“Next year you’re just going to see a much bigger outbreak of flu in the winter than you’re going to see normally,” Klein said. “And then the question becomes: will COVID come back and will we have this sort of ‘twindemic’ next year?”

To prevent a larger outbreak, Klein advised that people get vaccinated for both the coronavirus and the flu.

“Increasing the number of people that are vaccinated will help push down any sort of peak next year,” he said.

Jacob Wentz is the inaugural WUSF Rush Family Radio News intern for the summer of 2021.
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