Southern Hemisphere Has Fewer Flu Cases Amid COVID

September 15, 2020 – An epidemiologist said on Monday that face masks and other measures used to curb the spread of the coronavirus have helped bring down the flu rate in the southern hemisphere.

“The things we were doing for COVID are working for the flu,” said Carlos del Rio, MD, distinguished professor of medicine, epidemiology and global health and executive associate dean of Emory University School of Medicine in Grady Health System. “The reality is … we are all very encouraged by the small number of cases in the southern hemisphere.”

Del Rio, speaking at a virtual flu season media conference, said he hoped that if Americans maintained the same preventative measures against the coronavirus, “we may not see the flu this season.”

The World Health Organization agrees, saying: “The various hygiene and physical distancing measures implemented by member states to reduce the transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus have likely played a role in reducing the transmission of the influenza virus.

The flu season comes first in the southern hemisphere, usually starting in May or June and peaking in July or August. In the northern hemisphere, it normally begins in November and peaks between January and March.

As an example of the slowdown in cases, The Wall Street Journal reported that Chile had registered 1,134 seasonal respiratory infections at the end of July, up from 20,949 at the same time last year.

In Australia, only 85 new laboratory-confirmed influenza cases were recorded in the last 2 weeks of June, compared to 22,047 confirmed cases during this period in 2019, The Wall Street Journal said, citing government statistics.

Health officials in the United States have warned that a heavy flu season on top of the coronavirus pandemic could be catastrophic.

“It would be terrible to have simultaneous epidemics,” said Walter Orenstein, MD, associate director of the Emory Vaccination Center and professor of infectious diseases in the Emory University School of Medicine. “It would put terrible stress on the health care industry.”

The case of a high school football coach in southern Georgia shows how dangerous the two illnesses can be together. Tift County High School says on its Facebook page that its head football coach has been hospitalized with both COVID and the flu.

The school says coach Ashley Anders developed symptoms last week and was quarantined.

This case illustrates why Orenstein and del Rio have said the flu shot is more important than ever because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Orenstein said that in “a good year” the flu shot is 40-60% effective. The flu shot for the 2019-20 season was around 38% effective, he said.

“It’s still much better than zero percent, which is the effect of not having a vaccine,” he said.

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Jothi Venkat

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