Although we’ve all been on virtual lockdown for nearly 18 months, the COVID-19 pandemic might have had a silver lining, according to a new report.
“Scientists say that two common strains of the seasonal flu have seemingly vanished from circulation, likely due to public health measures like mask-wearing meant to slow the covid-19 pandemic,” Gizmodo reported. “Though it will take time to confirm the disappearing act, the unexpected good news could make developing next season’s flu shot all the easier.”
“There’s just no flu circulating,” Greg Poland, who has studied the disease at the Mayo Clinic for decades, told Scientific America. “The U.S. saw about 600 deaths from influenza during the 2020–2021 flu season. In comparison, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated there were roughly 22,000 deaths in the prior season and 34,000 two seasons ago.”
But USA Today, in a fact check, said it’s difficult to assess the data.
“One is an estimate of the burden of influenza based on a mathematical model and the other refers to data reported in the U.S. influenza surveillance report information from the U.S. influenza surveillance system,” Kate Grusich, a public affairs specialist for the CDC, told the paper.
Surveillance data may drastically underrepresent the true burden of the flu in the U.S., so statistical models are used to estimate the annual number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths. This was something the CDC could not do for the 2020-2021 season because low flu activity meant there wasn’t enough data to make estimates.
The CDC maintains both sets of numbers because they serve different purposes, Grusich said. Surveillance helps track how the flu is progressing on a week-to-week basis, while the model-based estimates are a more accurate overall representation of the number of cases and deaths.
But with the virus waning amid the vaccination drive nationwide, many states are moving to lift restrictions, including doing away with mask requirements and reopening restaurants and bars. That is leading to more cases of the common cold, according to one new report.
“As more people venture out of their bubble and take off their masks, some are catching what they call ‘the reemergence cold,’” the CBS affiliate in New York reported.
“Dr. Perry Halkitis with Rutgers says it’s going around, and you may catch it no matter how healthy or strong your immunity is. ‘It’s a natural phenomena. People engaging with each other again, not washing hands, coughing on each other, interacting and spreading disease,’” Halkitis told the station.
But COVID-19 cases are plunging, according to the CDC.
“By May 1, 2021, 82%, 63%, and 42% of adults aged ≥65, 50–64, and 18–49 years, respectively, had received ≥1 vaccine dose,” the CDC reported on Monday. “From November 29–December 12, 2020 to April 18–May 1, 2021, the rate ratios of COVID-19 incidence, emergency department visits, hospital admissions, and deaths among adults aged ≥65 years (≥70 years for hospitalizations) to adults aged 18–49 years declined 40%, 59%, 65%, and 66%, respectively.”
“The greater decline in COVID-19 morbidity and mortality in older adults, the age group with the highest vaccination rates, demonstrates the potential impact of increasing population-level vaccination coverage,” said the health agency.