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Doctors see low numbers for start of flu season in US

There is a glimmer of hope during the pandemic. Doctors say they are not seeing a wave of flu hospitalizations on top of those for the coronavirus. We learned there are a lot of reasons flu numbers are remaining low.

Doctors told us the precautions being taken to stop the spread of COVID-19 could be the reason we are seeing lower flu numbers so far. The masks, social distancing and hand hygiene are keeping people safe in more ways than one.

“We have seen pretty low flu levels in the southern hemisphere where we would expect to see it before we see it in our winter here in the northern hemisphere,” said Dr. Marissa Levine, a professor of public health practice at USF. “There’s lots of speculation that may be all of the efforts to prevent COVID from spreading also prevent the flu.”

Although it’s still early in the flu season here in the United States, the CDC’s flu view shows more than 100,000 people were tested for the flu since September, but only 0.3% of those tests came back positive. Doctors say those precautions are helping more than we think.

“The number of patients and phone calls we’ve had for respiratory symptoms from the flu has been less,” said Dr. Olveen Carrasquillo, who is the chief of the Division of General Internal Medicine at UM.

“With the COVID now, everyone’s wearing a mask, so it’s even better than coughing into your shirt,” said. “People are always washing their hands and using hand sanitizers. And, certainly, if people are sick, we told them to isolate immediately.”

Rick Farmer, his wife and his two boys all contracted COVID-19 in June. With the effects still lingering, Farmer is concerned about getting sick with the flu as well.

“Nobody really knows what the long-term effects are going to be, and will it affect other diseases like the flu, which is obviously a similar type of disease,” Farmer said. “Is it going to make it worse?”

Farmer says his whole family got their flu shots to be safe, and he’s happy to hear doctors say the number of flu infections are down globally.

“I kind of feel like the numbers should be down because more people are taking precautions,” Farmer said.

Both doctors emphasized how important it is that everyone gets their flu shot this year. They say that will also help to keep numbers low and protect individuals and people around them.

It’s a refreshing trend for doctors, who hope the trend continues after the holidays and that we won’t see the “twindemic” many feared.

“We can get the numbers of people impacted by both COVID and flu both for hospitalizations as well as deaths,” Levine said. “We can really impact that significantly if we all take the approach that our efforts matter and they do.”

Reporter:Breana Ross
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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