Lockdowns and social distancing guidelines in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic also seem to be containing flu outbreaks.
The most recent report from the Department of Health shows influenza activity low statewide this season.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting health care seeking behavior, which may be impacting the ILI (influenza-like illnesses) and influenza activity trends shown in this report,” officials wrote. “An overall reduction in the number of emergency department and urgent care center visits has been observed in recent weeks, along with changes in the reasons for seeking care at these facilities.”
The overall trend comes despite the percentage of flu-related emergency room visits being above average for the first three months of the year. But for the past eight weeks, That percentage was substantially lower than the last three years on average. For the past month, it was under 1%.
That number certainly could been affected by the higher number of patients seeking tests for the coronavirus in that time.
It’s not the seasonal flu has disappeared. The most recent week reported, spanning from April 26 to May 2, shows sporadic geographic spread of the flu.
But there have been no outbreaks of influenza reported anywhere in the state. In fact, the last time any outbreaks were reported came the week of March 22 through 28. That week, six outbreaks occurred. The prior week there were 11.
A look at total deaths shows that flu-like illnesses continue to claim plenty of lives. But the coronavirus crisis in recent weeks has done more damage. The Department of Health notably has subtracted deaths from COVID-19 from its charted deaths from pneumonia and flu-like illnesses to better capture influenza trends in the state.
Between April 12 and 25, Florida was averaging about 275 deaths from pneumonia or influenza per week, not counting COVID-19 deaths. In that same time frame, there was on average about 307 COVID-19 deaths per week in the state.
Since the start of the pandemic, there have been frequent comparisons between COVID-19 and past flus. President Dona;d Trump early on made regular comparisons to the flu. Florida House Speaker Jose Oliva compares coronavirus updates each day to a 10-year average on annual flu cases in a daily pandemic newsletter.
A look at how severe response to the spread of the coronavirus shows some folly to that, with the current crisis outpacing the flu in simultaneous impacts of both public health threats. Considering the flu deaths reported cover a range of strains, that’s all the more striking.
Yet the reports also show how the ailments differently impact populations. The state reports 1,539 individuals have died from COVID-19 to date, but the youngest was 26 years old.
By comparison, the flu last week claimed its 18th child victim of the year in Florida. That child had known health problems beforehand and did not receive a flu vaccine this year.
Skeptics of the virus threat altogether have frequently compared its overall impact to that of H1N1, a strain commonly called the swine flu that reached pandemic conditions in 2009, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That pandemic over 12 months killed as many as 18,306 Americans, a number far eclipsed by the 72,812 Americans killed by the new coronavirus in a few months.
But public health officials note the H1N1 virus continues to kill today, more than a decade after it was first identified. It continues to be the most dominant flu strain identified in the state of Florida by far.