What Happened to the Flu This Year?
The past 12 months, rightfully so, have been all about COVID-19. We're quickly approaching the one year anniversary of national 2 week lockdowns to 'flatten the curve'. A lot of people got sick due to COVID. A lot of people died because of COVID. So, it's not surprising that COVID has been top of mind when it comes to viruses this year.
However, with all the attention going to COVID, what about the flu? In a normal year, there's usually roughly 600,000-800,000 hospitalizations due to the virus and between 50,000 and 60,000 deaths. But this year, there's not a whole lot of talk about the flu. Well, the reason you haven't heard a lot about the flu is this: there's been virtually no flu season this year. Like none. According to WebMD, this flu season the U.S. (and most of the world) is seeing historically low numbers of flu cases. And this is coming off of last year where most of the country saw record highs in flu cases. So, what makes this year so much different than years gone by?
Well, the answer to that isn't so simple. Depending on who you talk to and what source you read you get a different answer. One popular theory is that due to all the COVID mitigation measures in place (masks, social distancing, etc.), the flu virus isn't being transmitted this year. The other theory is that more people went out and got the flu shot this year than ever before. While flu shot numbers aren't available yet, the CDC estimates that roughly 194 million people got vaccinated this year which would be up from 20 million the year flu season prior. In fact, according to a story from the Associated Press, there's so few flu cases this year, that doctors are worried about next season because there's not enough available data to study circulating strains and create future vaccines.
There is also another theory being tossed around online, albeit in much smaller does than the theories above, that some actual flu cases are being misdiagnosed as COVID. COVID and the flu have very similar symptoms, so it's not a stretch to believe that some cases of the flu are actually being counted as COVID.
No matter how you look at it, COVID vaccinations exist and are being distributed to the public. So, hopefully, our COVID headaches will soon be over with. If the silver lining to our year of misery is that the flu (possibly) has been eradicated or, at the very least, seriously weakened...I guess at least there was a silver lining to all this.