Why Flu Cases are Down this Year

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Source: AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

By Ryan Chou

If you’ve seen some of the headlines, flu cases are apparently down this year, and while it’s certainly true that flu hospitalizations are down 98% from last year to well under 1,000, some of the conspiracies that seasonal flu cases were somehow reported as COVID are just outright false.

It’s possible that this year was inevitably going to be more inactive than other years, but numbers being this low are admittedly puzzling at first. But looking into it, it doesn’t really look like there’s much foul play or conspiracies going on here. So why is the flu virtually gone right now?

First off, about 194 million Americans got the flu shot this year. Obviously, the flu vaccine has its faults every year, and not all these vaccinations worked or can deal with possible mutations. However, close to 60% of the population taking a vaccine against this virus certainly dropped the prevalence of available hosts. For reference, only about 9% of Americans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 so far. 

Another thing is that just like COVID-19, the flu is viral. Normally, it finds new hosts to infect through droplets, and these droplets usually don’t make it past 6 feet. As we all know, most Americans adhere to social distancing and public health guidelines. People are generally much more mindful of washing their hands, using soap, and avoiding touching. Combined with staying more than 6 feet apart in most settings, it’s only natural that the initiatives to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 would end up doing the same for the flu. 

There’s also the matter of closings. Before COVID-19 hit, big concerts, parties, and events were the norm, but they were also hotbeds for potentially getting sick. With these tightly-packed events virtually not happening, someone who might have the flu is much less likely to spread it to many people since these large-contact situations aren’t very frequent. Combined with the fact that nearly everyone is washing their hands and wearing masks to prevent the spread of droplets, the environment of today is extremely unfavorable for the flu. 

So, there’s not much of a mind-blowing reason for flu cases being down this year. In the nature of a pandemic setting, it’s only natural that a virus that spreads by droplets and close contact would be deterred by social distancing, masks, increased public health awareness, and minimal large gatherings. The COVID-19 restrictions target COVID, but they aren’t necessarily limited to it. 

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