Respiratory disease expert shares why flu spread has been minimal this season

Respiratory disease expert shares why flu spread has been minimal this season

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - As coronavirus cases surge in the Commonwealth and across the country, there’s some good news when it comes to the health of our community: flu cases are down.

Scientists and medical professionals all agree: masks work in limiting the spread of COVID-19. However, they also say masks and other preventative measures are effective in stopping the spread of the flu.

“It’s relatively unusual,” said Em Stephens, a respiratory disease coordinator at the Virginia Department of Health. “We really aren’t seeing a flu season at this point.”

It’s encouraging news, especially as hospitals are forced to reorganize staff to treat COVID patients.

“Normally we would expect to see wide spread start around December,” Stephens said.

That hasn’t been the case. Linked here, and in the video above, is the intensity levels of the flu in Virginia. From November 2019 to January 2020, it goes from minimal, to moderate, and even high levels in some parts of the Commonwealth. From November 2020 to the beginning of January 2021, Stephens says “we’ve been at no activity for pretty much the entirety of flu season.”

While there’s no definitive proof that masks and distancing are to thank, Stephens says there are strong clues - like how the June-to-August flu season in southern hemisphere countries was also barely visible.

“We have some evidence that this is a pattern, that there are some things that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected beyond just its particular disease,” she said.

So while masks may not be mandated during flu season, Stephens says our societal awareness will be greater and, hopefully, can help keep each other safe - even once the worst days of the pandemic are behind us.

”If we do start to feel ill, but need to go to work, we’ll probably be more ready to wear [masks] than we have in previous years.”

Stephens also hopes that now people will realize how important vaccinations are and will be more likely to get their flu shots in the future.

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