A Year Safe from Flu
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), almost no one contracted the flu since the mandatory practice of wearing masks, social distancing, and hygiene rules started as a response to the COVID-19 epidemic, which affected the entire world. This is because these measures prevent the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, also stop the flu viruses. According to a report published in Scientific American last autumn, influenza cases displayed a rapid decline all over the world. Since then, the number of cases has stayed on miniscule levels. Influenza viruses are transmitted pretty much in the same fashion as the novel coronavirus. However, they are less effective at jumping from host to host.
According to the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of positive flu cases recorded in the USA between September 2020 and January 2021 is only 1,316. In comparison, the figures for the same period last year pointed to almost 130,000.
This being the case, choosing the virus strains for this year’s flu vaccine will be a bit challenging, because the annual vaccines generally include the most problematic strains of the previous year –for which, we seem to have a lack of data due to the very few numbers of cases. WHO has already made recommendations on flu strains in February this year, as it does every year, but these were based on far fewer cases than in a typical year. Of course, the low number of cases also means a lower chance of mutations, which makes some experts predict that the 2021-2022 vaccine may prove to be more effective than usual.
Although the decline of the flu virus seems to be good news in terms of public health, some experts worry about the possibility of decreased immune response levels. This may be problematic for young children in particular, as such early-age responses are critical for the development of their immune systems.
Of course, it is not possible to predict exactly how the situation will progress in the coming years. The only clear outcome is that the measures we have followed over the past year have been very effective against the influenza viruses. Social distancing, staying away from closed areas and the usage of masks, washing hands frequently or disinfecting in other ways definitely prevent the spread of such diseases.
Some experts state that we may see an unusual increase in flu cases next year. Therefore, it may be useful to stick to the habit of wearing a mask for a while, especially in winter.
- 1. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/flu-has-disappeared-worldwide-during-the-covid-pandemic1/
- 2. https://www.popsci.com/health/flu-season-severe-2022/
- 3. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/a-sharp-drop-in-flu-cases-during-covid-19-pandemic/