Flu numbers down this year

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Washing your hands, social distancing, and wearing a mask. Springfield health experts say these covid-19 precautions have also protected against a similar virus: the flu. This week Ozarks First reporter David Chasanov compared this flu season to last year’s.

Around this time last season, Greene County had about 196 cases. As of today, the area has 39.

During the 2019-2020 flu season, the Springfield-Greene County Health Department reported more than 4,000 cases. Around 71 of those were discharged from CoxHealth in January of 2020 – just one month after Mercy Dr. Will Sistrunk says the surge started.

“Lasted for a couple of months,” Dr. Sistrunk said. “Really before we started seeing much COVID in the United States we had the flu outbreak.”

This time around, both hospitals haven’t seen many cases at all.

CoxHealth’s Kaitlyn McConnell shared the following statement with Ozarks First:

“In January 2020, at least 71 patients were discharged from CoxHealth’s hospitals who had a diagnosis of influenza. To date, no patients have been discharged with a flu diagnosis so far this year.

It is not a surprise to see this shift, especially since we saw other countries in the southern hemisphere – where winter occurs during Missouri’s summer – experience much lower rates of flu than normal.

While there are many differences between flu and COVID-19 – and take completely different tests to diagnose which virus is making someone ill – both of them are respiratory illnesses. Lower numbers can be connected to the fact that the same preventative measures being taken for COVID-19, such as masking and physical distancing, also help prevent the spread of the flu. There is also increased awareness this season about one’s own health, and perhaps more people staying home when they feel unwell, leading to reduced transmission.

However, in addition, the virus that causes COVID-19 is much more infectious than that of a typical flu strain, which is resulting in more cases and more severely ill individuals. In comparison to our flu numbers, we currently have 139 patients in hospitals across our system with COVID-19, and approximately 28 require ICU care.”

Dr. Sistrunk offered more reasons for the flu not being as prevalent this year.

“There’s been a significant decrease in international travel,” Dr. Sistrunk said.

COVID-19 guidelines have also helped.

“It’s really spread the same way,” Dr. Sistrunk said. “Doing what you would typically do for COVID would also reduce the spread of influenza.”

Kathryn Wall with the health department says she hopes the vaccine is making a difference.

“We do know that CDC sent out more vaccines for flu than they have in previous years,” Wall said. “It’s a record year for flu vaccine.”

Regardless of how things are looking, wall says people should keep their guard up.

“We’ve had 39 people who have tested positive for the flu,” Wall said. “That’s one misconception that I want to make sure people understand. I think there’s this idea that anything respiratory is just called COVID. That’s not the case.”

Flu and COVID numbers come from lab-confirmed cases.

“Those don’t intersect,” Wall said. “They are separate results. You get the sample in a similar way, but we are doing very different tests. So, flu is very much still a thing.”

If you haven’t gotten a flu shot yet, Wall says it’s not too late.

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