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No Flu Season 2020

Efforts to stop the coronavirus have had at least one welcome side-effect as the southern hemisphere skipped flu season in 2020, and the northern hemisphere is likely to do the same. In a year filled not such great news (unless you're a regular reader of OGN Daily), a victory against the flu is a welcome respite.

Every winter, from May to October, tens of thousands of Aussies and Kiwis are asked by their governments how they feel. More accurately, they are asked in weekly surveys if they have a cough or a fever.

Although 2020 has been a difficult year for the antipodeans, it has not necessarily been bad for their physical health. This winter only around 0.4 per cent of people in the two countries said they were suffering from flu-like symptoms, down by 80 per cent compared to 2019. Other countries in the southern hemisphere have reported similar slowdowns in the spread of influenza.

The cause for this steep decline in infections is clear. Governments all around the world have enacted lockdowns to fight 'you know what'. In doing so, not only have countries in the southern hemisphere slowed the spread of covid-19, but they also appear inadvertently to have stopped the proliferation of another deadly disease: the flu.

Since 1952 the World Health Organisation has tracked influenza in member countries, relying on local partner laboratories to report both the number and types of viruses they detect. In the first two weeks of August, the WHO processed nearly 200,000 influenza tests, and found just 46 were positive. To put that in to perspective, the number would be closer to 3,500 in a typical year.

One might worry that because health-care systems are strained, the declines in reported flu cases reflect reduced testing capacity, rather than a genuine reduction in infections. Fortunately, this is not so. In addition to Australia and New Zealand, WHO data is readily available in four other southern hemisphere countries: Argentina, South Africa, Paraguay and Chile - and everywhere cases have plummeted to record lows.

The data from Australia telsl a remarkable tale. From May to mid-August of 2015-19, an average of 86,000 Australians tested positive for the flu each year, and around 130 died of it. This winter the government has registered only 627 influenza infections and just a single death.

Meanwhile, countries in the northern hemisphere should expect fewer flu cases when winter arrives, since fewer will be imported from abroad, and most people are social distancing, and everyone has learnt how to wash their hands properly - another lockdown benefit, as articulated by OGN on 21 August in Lockdown Health Lessons

Seasonal influenza kills an estimated 300,000 to 650,000 people annually. In a year filled with terrible news, a victory against the flu is a welcome respite.

Original source: Economist

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