There is no flu this winter. Neither in Europe, nor in the US Doctors have practically no cases compared to previous years at a time when peaks of this disease usually occur.
And although the European Center for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC for its acronym in English) warns that “due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the data presented on influenza should be interpreted with caution”, the truth is that “It’s unusual for there to be such low flu activity this season.” The Center detected only 415 cases since December 2020, nothing to do with the more than 18,000 that were registered from December 2018 to the first week of 2019.
This constant has been repeated in almost all parts of the world. In Catalonia, for example, only one case of flu has been seen in the second week of January, more than 100 were registered in the 2019-2020 season. A situation that can be seen in other places, such as California, where the data they are almost identical to those of the Spanish region. The US Center for Disease Control ensures that in the first week of January, 1.2% of the patients’ pictures were related to influenza, nothing to do with the more than 6% of the same stage of the previous year .
Doctors and specialists agree that the fundamental reason for this decrease is the application of measures against COVID-19, which also affects other respiratory diseases such as influenza. The epidemiologist Joan Caylà, from the Spanish Epidemiology Society, attributes this reduction in cases to three fundamental factors.
“We think that what has been definitive is the use of masks”, it is something, explains the expert, to which in Europe we are not accustomed, however “In Asian countries we did see them and they are very useful to avoid COVID and flu”, says Caylà who assures that it is a measure that has come to stay, and with which we will have to live for a while. But the masks were accompanied by other measures, to which we have become accustomed in 2020, which have also been helpful against the flu. “In general, people have respected the distance, and that has helped […] also frequent hand washing ”.
In addition to health measures, which all experts agree on, in Spain there have also been more reasons why the flu has decreased considerably. “Another issue has been the vaccine, which in the presence of the covid was greatly enhanced, this year there has been a campaign more powerful than ever,” says the epidemiologist. During 2020, the Government began a campaign with which it hoped to vaccinate 75% of the Spanish population over 65 years of age and health professionals to prevent a disease that in the 2019-2020 season caused about 3,900 deaths in Spain. In Europe, between 15,000 and 70,000 people die each year from the flu, according to the ECDC.
The third and final reason behind the decline in influenza is the predominance of some viruses over others. “Now”, explains Caylà, “we are seeing that the English variant is predominant”, in the same way, says the epidemiologist, the SARS-Cov 2 virus predominates against the flu and prevails. However, the decrease in influenza can facilitate the diagnosis, the doctor explains that with a picture of the flu, and with this disease at a minimum, it is most likely that the patient has COVID-19.