Largely thanks to social distancing and masking – as well as higher uptake of the flu vaccine – flu deaths this season are almost non-existent.
Why it matters: The drastic drop in infections by influenza and other respiratory viruses in circulation has given the US healthcare system a welcome respite at a time when COVID-19 is exploding.
By the numbers: According to the CDC, the United States recorded only five flu deaths in the 52nd week of 2020, a period that usually represents the height of the flu season.
- That is 40 times fewer deaths than the same week in 2019 and more than 130 times fewer deaths than in the bad flu season in 201
- According to data from BioFire Diagnostics, levels of almost all common respiratory and gastrointestinal viruses are currently anything but undetectable.
How it works: It turns out that if you drastically reduce global travel, close public jobs and schools, and promote masking and handwashing, you will cut off the chances of common pathogens spreading.
- It also helps that a record number of flu vaccine doses have been sent this season, and that an estimated 53-54% of American adults had been shot before the end of December, significantly higher than the same time last year.
The big picture: Historically, low levels of influenza and other common viruses occur, while the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States is at its worst.
- This is not surprising: While common viruses have been circulating for years and there is a basic level of resistance in the population, no one had encountered SARS-CoV-2 before it originated in China a year ago and the virus continues to spread. quickly through vulnerable populations.
What to see: For every week that goes by with unusually low levels of flu, susceptibility to the virus will increase, potentially creating the United States for a hard rebound in the future.
- That may be what happens in Australia, where flu cases in the winter months were almost non-existent, only to jump back in December, when the flu is not normally present in the southern hemisphere.
Bottom line: While it is good to see fewer deaths due to influenza, SARS-CoV-2 is ravaging the United States in a completely different magnitude, with more Americans dying of COVID-19 last week than the total number of influenza deaths last season.