With social distancing measures in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, confirmed cases of the flu have plummeted during the 2020-2021 flu season.
According to data published on the CDC website, U.S. clinical health labs and public health labs reported only 2,124 confirmed influenza cases between September 27, 2020 and May 15, 2021 (although the actual number of people who have contracted influenza is probably higher).
These 2,124 cases represent an extreme drop in the spread of influenza from the 2019-20 season. Between October 2019 and April 2020, the CDC estimated that at least 39 million people contracted the flu.
It wasn’t just the United States. The World Health Organization said influenza cases around the world also fell to minuscule levels during the 2020-2021 flu season.
It’s clear that social distancing and universal mask warrants have had an impact on dropping flu case levels in the winter of 2020 and 2021. CDC data shows patients going to doctor’s offices for medical treatment. Flu-like illnesses fell in March and April 2020 and have remained low since.
But while the declining rate of flu cases may seem like a welcome sign, it has in some ways left doctors in the dark about how they plan to handle the upcoming flu season.
Scientific American reports that each year’s flu shot is based on strains of flu that circulated the previous season. In February, the WHO made recommendations for next year’s vaccine, but was forced to do so on much less information than in previous years.
While there are fears that the flu vaccine will not be as effective next season, doctors are hoping that less spread in 2020-2021 would mean there was less of a chance for mutated flows, which would keep the effective vaccines.