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Rates of colds and flu have dropped dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic: at least some people are wearing masks.

2021-01-14

Despite the spiraling rates of coronavirus infection over the last few months, the rates of colds, flu, and other respiratory infections have plummeted. A Washington Post article from January 12 has graphs showing that the winter influenza season this year has simply not materialized. Other respiratory viruses like parainfluenza, respiratory syncytial virus, and human metapneumovirus, have not increased this winter the way they normally do every year.

A news feature article in Nature from December 15, 2020 has similar information. The subtitle says, “Measures meant to tame the coronavirus pandemic are quashing influenza and most other respiratory diseases, which could have wide-ranging implications.” The article says this isn’t just an artifact of reduced reporting: “After the pandemic started, positive tests for the flu virus plummeted by 98% in the United States, for example, whereas the number of samples submitted for testing dropped by only 61%. “

The Nature article states that the flu season in the Southern Hemisphere didn’t happen: “In Australia, Chile and South Africa, a grand total of just 51 cases of flu were spotted in more than 83,000 tests. “We know it’s less transmissible than coronavirus, so it makes sense,” says Olsen, but the decline was still “greater than expected”.”

It’s important to know that the coronavirus is more contagious than regular influenza. So even mask-wearing won’t completely stop SARS-COV-2, but it will block the flu.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has a weekly influenza surveillance report; the latest I could find is for January 2, 2021. It states that the incidence of positive influenza tests is 0.1% and that “Flu activity is unusually low at this time but may increase in the coming months.”

So getting a flu shot (which more people than usual have done this year) is not as important as wearing a mask when you go out– but getting your coronavirus vaccine as soon as possible is very important.

On this note, the New York Times reports incredible bureaucratic difficulties in getting reservations online and over the phone for coronavirus vaccines in New York City. Comments to the article indicate a similar situation all over the country. The failure to prepare for the vaccine is yet another disaster preventing the timely suppression of the pandemic in this country.

(photo by pedro wroclaw courtesy of pixabay.com)

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