What happened to flu season? Experts talk COVID-19, vaccines and more

“The measures that we've put in place for COVID prevention have done a lot to help prevent the flu in Lane County,” said one PeaceHealth doctor.

Posted: Jan 11, 2021 6:18 PM

LANE COUNTY, Ore. -- As the talk of coronavirus dominates our daily conversation, some people are asking: what happened to the flu?

Dr. Brenda Ormesher is an Infectious Disease Physician with PeaceHealth Medical Group. She along with several other doctors KEZI 9 News spoke to said they have seen very low flu activity within the community.

“The measures that we've put in place for COVID prevention have done a lot to help prevent the flu in Lane County,” Ormesher said.

But that’s not all.

“We did have higher rates of vaccination this year compared to prior years, so that's excellent because more people have become engaged,” Ormesher said. “They've taken measures to help prevent the spread of influenza, and that community engagement has made such a big difference.”

Dr. Patrick Luedtke with Lane County Public Health agrees.

“We are of course attributing that really to human behavior,” Luedtke said. “People are wearing masks -- not 100% but they can still do better. Many of them are wearing masks. Secondly, people are avoiding these congregate settings where we typically pass it.”

He said labs have shown a nearly 75% reduction in flu cases so far this year, but he said anything could happen.

“We could still very well see a big peak in influenza in February, March or April,” Luedtke said. "So people still have time to get protected, and we really want them to.”

Luedtke said that in a typical year there is so much influenza that it is not a reportable disease. That would only change if officials noticed a novel strain.

In the 2019-2020 season, the CDC estimated 22,000 deaths from the flu. Across the country, many states have reported none so far.

Health officials have warned about the dangerous reality of coinfection -- that’s an individual becoming infected with both COVID-19 and the flu. Ormesher said they’ve only seen one case of that in a nursing home.

“The flu shot is definitely important, even with low cases,” Ormesher said. “If we start seeing that spread in our community, in addition with COVID, that would be detrimental to the health care facility and it would be detrimental to the patients.”

In Oregon, between Dec. 27 and Jan. 2 this season, there were 0.1% of positive flu tests. Last season, that number was at 26.6% in the same time span.

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