Michiana experiencing fewer flu cases

ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind. – There’s an apparent decline in flu cases across the U.S and in the state of Indiana. But, what does that mean?

Health officials spent the start of flu season preparing for a possible twin-demic; seasonal influenza and the coronavirus. But one doctor at the South Bend Clinic said, at this point, they haven’t seen anyone come in for the flu.

“I would probably be getting, oh I don’t know just maybe two or three calls a day on a really busy flu time,” Family Physician Justin Schwalbe said. “We’re just not seeing that at all now.”

Usually, December through February is the peak season for flu cases, but this year that isn’t the case. According to the Indiana Department of Health, only three people died of the flu across the state as of February 12. A drastic difference compared to this time last year when there were 50 deaths at this point in the season. On a nationwide scale, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a total of 9 million flu cases in 2020 including 30,000 American deaths.

Current activity is also much lower than usual, raising a big question. Is there any sort of correlation between this decline and the coronavirus? Dr.Schwalbe said it all comes down to pandemic precautions that we’re doing now, like mask-wearing, social distancing, and frequent handwashing.

“We're wearing masks when we’re out in public more often than not. We’re trying to stay home if we don’t have to go somewhere, more people are working from home. We’ve got kids who are doing school from home. So, all these factors, which help mitigate COVID-19 also help prevent the flu,” Dr. Schwalbe said.

COVID-19 and Seasonal influenza are both respiratory viruses that are spread the same way, through respiratory droplets. But, that doesn’t mean they behave the same way, too.

“COVID-19 is far more contagious than the flu, and we know that is spread a lot easier than the flu. Which is why we’re seeing surging cases of COVID-19 around the country this winter, but haven’t seen as much of flu activity,” Berrien County Health Department Communication Manager, Gillian Conrad said.

When it comes to COVID-19, Conrad said each patient can infect up to three others on average. Someone with the flu can possibly transmit it to just one other person. Another main difference between the two is the incubation period for each illness.

It’s less than four days for the flu and much longer for the coronavirus, which many asymptomatic individuals don’t even know they have until after they’ve already gotten someone else sick.

Dr. Schwalbe said one benefit coming out of the pandemic is that most people are taking their general health more seriously.

“less people are in public spreading what they have. Also if nowadays if you're having a cough or fever, we're more likely to stay home than we use to. And there’s an understanding that I’m sick, I’m not coming into work, or I’m sick, I’m not coming into school. There’s more of an understanding and people are saying oh okay, it's probably a good idea not to spread whatever I have,” Dr. Schwalbe said.

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