LUBBOCK, TX — With peak flu season now in full swing, both the CDC and local doctors have said that as coronavirus cases continue to rage, cases of the influenza virus are falling and hitting record lows across the country.
It’s an unexpected side effect from the population’s efforts to wash hands, wear face masks and social distance.
“We’ve had significantly lower numbers of individuals coming in with the flu. We’ve been cautious. We’ve been testing folks because of COVID-19, but we have had a lot less cases that we’ve encountered this year,” Dr. Kirk Tiemann, a family medicine physician at Regal Park Medical Center, said.
Tiemann said that he’s seen local flu cases go down by at least 50 percent, some of the lowest numbers in years, and according to the CDC, downward turns like this are a trend nationwide.
The map below from the CDC shows flu activity across the U.S., and as of this week, it’s all in green, indicating minimal or low flu levels — highly unusual for this time of year.
The reason the flu appears to be taking a backseat during the pandemic? It’s all thanks to the safety measures people have been using to combat coronavirus.
“I think the masks are definitely benefitting folks,” Tiemann said.
“Both flu and COVID-19, they spread in quite similar ways through droplets, and now since we’ve been doing a lot of social distancing, wearing masks … that has helped with the flu as well,” Dr. Prakash Shrestha, an infectious diseases physician and Medical Director for Infection Prevention for Covenant Health, said.
While both Tiemann and Shrestha said that for now, the country has seemed to narrowly avoid the dreaded “twindemic,” a flu pandemic on top of COVID-19, we’re not in the clear yet.
Shrestha said the last thing you want is to get a virus that could leave you more vulnerable to COVID-19.
“If you can at least avoid the flu, that would be great,” Shrestha said.
But since both viruses are so similar, Tiemann also offered some ways to distinguish between the two.
“Most of the time with the flu, you’re going to have a lot of body aches, chills, but with the coronavirus, we’re seeing people come in with shortness of breath … loss of taste and sense of smell,” Tiemann said.
The doctors added that it’s still not too late to get a flu shot. Peak flu season goes from December to February, but the influenza virus can last as late as May.