Despite the horrifying surge of Covid-19 cases and deaths in the United States right now, one bit of good epidemiology news is emerging this winter: It now looks unlikely that the country will endure a “twindemic” of flu and the coronavirus hitting at the same time.
That comes as a profound relief to public health officials who predicted as far back as April that thousands of flu victims with pneumonia could pour into hospitals this winter, competing with equally desperate Covid-19 pneumonia victims for scarce ventilators.
“Overall flu activity is low, and lower than we usually see at this time of year,” said Dr. Daniel B. Jernigan, director of the influenza division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “I don’t think we can definitively say there will be no twindemic; I’ve been working with flu for a long time, and I’ve been burned. But flu is atypically low.”
Since September, the C.D.C. “FluView” — its weekly report on influenza surveillance — has shown all 50 states in shades of green and chartreuse, indicating “minimal” or “low” flu activity. Normally by December, at least a few states are painted in oranges and reds for “moderate” and “high.”
A combination of factors has made the flu season remarkably quiet, experts said.
In the Southern Hemisphere, where winter stretches from June through August, widespread mask-wearing, rigorous lockdowns and other precautions against Covid-19 transmission also drove the incidence of flu down to record lows. In the United States, the cancellation of large indoor gatherings, closings of schools and use of masks have been mitigating all respiratory diseases, including influenza.
That has buoyed the spirits of flu experts.
Dr. William Schaffner, medical director at the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, which promotes flu shots, said he was recently on a telephone discussion with other preventive medicine specialists. “Everybody was in quiet awe about how low flu is,” he said. “Somebody said: ‘Shh, don’t talk about it. The virus will hear us.’”
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