January is usually the peak time for the flu, with winter and dirty subways creating the perfect breeding ground for the virus. But this season, instead of going to work with the sniffles, most of us have been staying home, leading to a huge drop in cases of the virus.
Flu cases lowest in 130 years
In the third week of January, the number of people who went to doctors reporting flu-like symptoms was at just 0.9 per 100,000 people, compared to the usual five-year rate of around 27. And, out of all the patients in 392 doctor’s surgeries, only 42 showed any traces of flu-like symptoms.
The Sunday Times also reported that in the second week of January, flu positivity (a common measurement of flu cases in a community) was at 0%. Not a single person of the 1894 people tested had the virus. Simon de Lusignan, professor of primary care at Oxford University revealed to The Sun:
I cannot think of a year this has happened.
Midlands and the East of England managed to get away with flu rates of just 0.5 per 100,000 people as did Scotland, while Wales also had a minuscule amount of cases at just 1.0 per 100,000.
Why are flu rates dropping?
Professionals believe that the dramatic drop in flu cases is most likely the result of lockdown and other coronavirus safety measures. Lockdown in general has left people with less opportunity to catch the flu. But, when they do manage to go outside, it is usually accompanied by face masks, social distancing and increased amounts of hand washing and sanitising which help prevent the spread of the nasty seasonal virus. Prof de Lusignan continued:
There is so much evidence around hand-washing. If there is a pandemic again, some of these measures will undoubtedly remain in the armamentarium.
The UK isn’t the only place to be experiencing the drop either, as the US’ Centre for Disease Control (CDC) also reported that cases of the flu dropped sharply just two weeks after introducing a lockdownin March 2020. Flu positivity rates for the US went from 19% from September to February 2019 to just 0.3% from March to May 2020, a trend that is still continuing.
The CDC has amounted the drop in cases to the closure of schools, stay-at-home orders and bans on mass gatherings, as well as a sharp increase in flu vaccinations. A statement from the CDC explained:
The global decline in influenza virus circulation appears to be real and concurrent with the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated community mitigation measures.