Flu Season Where Are You?

Angie SzumlinskiHealth

This winter has, so far, been the quietest flu season in recent memory and the perks are clear. Fewer flu cases mean fewer deaths, fewer occupied hospital beds, and fewer overtaxed health-care workers, caregivers, and laboratory employees, a welcome respite for a country still in the coronavirus’ grip. Without flu cases to study, researchers have been starved of data crucial for developing vaccines and forecasting the next outbreak. Flu viruses have not gone extinct; they are temporarily in hiding and no one is quite sure when, or how, they will return.

The drastic behavioral changes that the pandemic has forced the world to adopt have almost certainly played a role. Widespread masking, lockdowns, and other measures that helped control the spread of coronavirus in countries such as Australia appear to have wiped out other respiratory viruses as well. Travel bans to keep people from carrying the coronavirus across international borders also cut off the conduits for other viruses to move from one country to another.

For the moment, however, the world has tamed the flu, an unexpected piece of good news in the year-long upending of normal life and a relief for overloaded hospitals and labs. But the flu’s exile isn’t built to last. Infections are still happening, perhaps many more than are being reported, as people continue to shelter at home and where masking, social distancing, and other measures have been successful.

Stay the course, stay well, mask up, get vaccinated, and stay tuned!