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Flu numbers surprisingly low for the 2020-21 season

Posted at 11:03 AM, Jan 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-23 12:03:50-05

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — While COVID has impacted the nation, another respiratory virus has been on the decline. The 2020-2021 flu season has been surprisingly slow.

"I have not diagnosed a case of flu yet this year, which is surprising," said Dr. Adam Highley, a pulmonologist with CHI Health. "My rough guesstimate, the number of patients we’d see, maybe 15, 20 percent of them might have flu or flu associated or have had flu previously and had a complication afterwards, but now, none."

According to data from the Douglas County Health Department, as of December 26, 2020, there have only been eight reported cases of the flu this season.

"When the seasons start changing, the numbers start creeping up, usually November, December, January, our group has to actually increase our staffing just because of flu season so we’ll have to put another person on to be able to take care of the numbers that come across the system," Dr. Highley said.

COVID precautions have been helpful in not also not spreading influenza. Wearing masks, social distancing, washing your hands more often and not going out when you feel sick are also not only to prevent COVID but they've slowed the spread of the flu.

"I think it’s the things we’re doing to prevent COVID are the things that prevent influenza and other respiratory viruses," said Dr. Trevor Van Schooneveld, an associate professor of infectious disease with Nebraska Medicine.

A high number of flu vaccines have also helped slow the spread of influenza, which Dr. Schooneveld believes was brought on by the COVID pandemic.

"I think people are motivated by the COVID problem to get vaccinated," Dr. Schooneveld said. "I think people heard the message, get the flu vaccine so we don’t have to worry about that too, and so I think they did act on it."

Doctors hope that the safety precautions we take for COVID have been a learning experience to slow the spread of other respiratory infections even in the future as the coronavirus hopefully slows.

"If we’re more vigilant, in particular staying home when we’re sick or wearing a mask when we’re sick, which is something I think may stick around, we won’t see flu cause the same level of illness I think," Dr. Schooneveld said.