Wearing a mask, washing your hands, social distancing and other precautions may be preventing the spread of more than just COVID-19.
Cases of the flu appear to be lower this year than in previous years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And that is likely because of all the precautions the public is taking to prevent COVID-19.
After communities adopted widespread measures to combat the spread of COVID-19, the number of specimens submitted to labs for flu testing went from a positivity rate of more than 20 percent to a rate of just over 2 percent, the CDC reported.
Why? Because many of the same measures used to prevent COVID-19 have the same preventive effect against the flu, health officials said. After all, they are both viruses that attack the respiratory system.
In an article published by the journal Nature, an epidemiologist with the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases said the flu is less contagious than COVID-19. Health officials expected a decrease in the flu and other respiratory viruses after everyone started social distancing and wearing masks, but the decline in flu cases was sharper than they thought.
The flu vaccine also played a part in reducing flu cases this season, the CDC noted.
“Influenza vaccination of all persons aged ≥6 months remains the best method for influenza prevention and is especially important this season when SARS-CoV-2 and influenza virus might cocirculate,” according to the agency in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
The Nature article pointed out that the number of people receiving the flu vaccine in the US has been going up for several years. Last year, more than 50 percent of the US population older than 6 years old got the flu vaccine.
Health experts also pointed out that other viruses seem to have been slowed by pandemic safety measures. For example, respiratory syncytial virus and several viruses tied to the common cold saw steep declines around the world.
What does this mean for future flu seasons? According to the CDC, “Some mitigation measures might have a role in reducing transmission in future influenza seasons.”
Speak with your health care provider about how to protect yourself from COVID-19, the flu and other viruses.