News and Commentary

CDC: Flu ‘Unusually Low,’ Too Few Hospitalizations To Run Model
Woman sneezing behind a window, using a tissue.
Guido Mieth via Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) updated their website last week to reflect the nation’s unusually low number of cases of influenza, or flu.

“Seasonal influenza activity in the United States remains lower than usual for this time of year,” the CDC said.

“Flu activity is unusually low at this time but may increase in the coming months,” the agency said, adding an advisory for Americans to get their flu shot.

Moreover, an “update” posted Dec. 3 said that the CDC was unable to generate their flu model since there have been too few hospitalizations:

The model used to generate influenza in-season preliminary burden estimates uses current season flu hospitalization data. Reported flu hospitalizations are too low at this time to generate an estimate.

According to the CDC, December is part of the “peak” season for flu.

“The exact timing and duration of flu seasons can vary, but influenza activity often begins to increase in October,” the agency’s site reads. “Most of the time flu activity peaks between December and February, although activity can last as late as May.”

In a report published Sept. 18 from the CDC, the agency explained: “Following widespread adoption of community mitigation measures to reduce transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, the percentage of U.S. respiratory specimens submitted for influenza testing that tested positive decreased from >20% to 2.3% and has remained at historically low interseasonal levels (0.2% versus 1–2%). Data from Southern Hemisphere countries also indicate little influenza activity.”

“Interventions aimed against SARS-CoV-2 transmission, plus influenza vaccination, could substantially reduce influenza incidence and impact in the 2020–21 Northern Hemisphere season,” the CDC said. “Some mitigation measures might have a role in reducing transmission in future influenza seasons.”

The Associated Press reported in October that the Southern Hemisphere saw low influenza numbers during their flu season due to COVID-19 precautions, like masks and “social distancing. But warned that the Northern Hemisphere might be hit with higher flu numbers because the U.S.’s relatively relaxed precautions.

“Medical professionals in the U.S. have been warning of a ‘twindemic,’ an overlap of influenza and COVID-19, which have similar symptoms,” the AP said.

“In the areas where people properly wear a proper mask, we will see very low rates of COVID-19 and influenza,” said Dr. Gregory Poland, an infectious diseases expert and the head of vaccine research at the Mayo Clinic. “In the areas where people are not compliant with mask wearing and distancing guidelines, we will see both diseases with COVID-19 more prominent because of its inherent greater infectiousness.”

“Certainly you should not get reassurance that what happened in the Southern Hemisphere is also going to happen in the Northern Hemisphere,” warned Dr. Edward Belongia, director for the Center for Clinical Epidemiology & Population Health at the Marshfield Clinic Research Institute in Wisconsin.

“Flu could be a very real problem again this year as it was last year,” another expert warned. “Don’t neglect your flu vaccine.

However, across the U.S., flu numbers currently remain low. Even in a state like Florida, where extreme lockdown measures are generally not enforced. For example, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis (FL) has never enacted a statewide mask mandate.

“During the last four weeks, the percent of influenza-positive laboratory results remained low,” said a report from the Florida Department of Health based on data from Nov. 22-28. “It is still too early to say what strain will predominate during the 2020-21 influenza season.”

“Likewise, the percent of emergency department and urgent care center visits with discharge diagnoses that include influenza remained low in recent weeks,” the department added.

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