Colorado is more than halfway through the annual flu season and, thanks to aggressive public health measures taken to combat COVID-19 along with an increase in vaccines, the state has seen a staggering drop in severe cases. influenza and deaths.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has recorded a total of 23 hospitalizations so far this flu season, which began Sept. 27 and runs through May 22.
By this time last year, 2,430 people had been hospitalized statewide with the flu. Colorado recorded a total of 3,546 influenza hospitalizations in all 64 counties during the 2019-20 season.
Colorado has seen no deaths from pediatric flu so far this season, as well as no outbreaks in long-term care facilities, according to data from the state health department. Three children under the age of 18 died from the flu in Colorado during the 2019-20 flu season.
Only one pediatric flu death has been reported nationwide this season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In contrast, the CDC reports that the 2019-20 season saw a record 188 flu-related deaths in children in the US.
Colorado state health officials said they don’t track adult flu deaths, but the CDC does. To date, in the 2020-21 season, the CDC reports that three people in total have died from the flu in Colorado. During the 2019-20 season, Colorado recorded a total of 143 influenza deaths, according to CDC data.
“I’ve never seen flu this low,” said Larissa Pisney, medical director of infection prevention and control at the University of Colorado UCHealth Hospital. “This is certainly unprecedented.”
The number of hospitalizations for influenza this season is the lowest that Dr. Eric France, medical director of the state health department, has seen in his 30 years of practice. He called it “extraordinary.”
Medical experts said the steep decline in traditional flu can be attributed to multiple factors, including precautions against coronavirus and, in particular, the fact that children have not been to school for much of the pandemic. This is often the main way flu is spread.
All the things people are doing to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including wearing face covers, traveling less, physically distancing themselves and frequent hand washing, have led to a decline in influenza, Pisney said.
“People should be excited to see that the flu can be prevented with our basic public health approach of wearing masks, getting vaccinated and avoiding gatherings,” France said.
Also, more people have gotten the flu vaccine this season. There has been a 13.5% increase in flu vaccines this season over last. As of February 15, 124,469 doses of flu vaccine had been administered in Colorado.
Even if someone hasn’t gotten a flu shot yet, Pisney said, there is still time because the virus has a chance to become active late in the season.
“The medical community was really concerned about the possibility of concomitant flu seasons in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic,” said Amy Duckro, infectious disease physician at Kaiser Permanente Colorado. “Thank God it didn’t happen. We are all very relieved. At least it hasn’t happened yet. “
Although flu and COVID-19 are similar and are transmitted by similar means, Pisney said they should not be confused with the same virus. COVID-19 is more infectious, leads to more hospitalizations, and is more deadly. Over the past year in Colorado, more than 23,000 people have been hospitalized with COVID-19 and nearly 6,000 people have died from the coronavirus.
Even with the launch of COVID-19 vaccines, there is no guarantee that the new coronavirus will go away.
Duckro said medical professionals were unable to predict the current flu off season and, like last year’s uncertainty, they will not be able to predict what COVID-19 will do in the next few years.
“It’s really hard to predict, but I suspect that COVID will turn like the flu,” Pisney said. “We will probably see some degree of similar seasonality. I suspect that COVID will only be a part of our normal lives and will work for years to come. “
If COVID-19 becomes an annual virus, Duckro said the lessons learned during this pandemic will allow people to manage it more effectively in the future.
France said there is still a lot we don’t know about COVID-19, but it hopes that from time to time booster shots will need to be given, as is done with the flu.
“We will learn more as we move forward,” he said.
As Colorado continues to navigate the pandemic, it is important to continue to practice the necessary safety measures to keep the number of flu and COVID-19 cases low, Duckro said. Masking up, keeping your physical distance, and washing your hands are key.
“It’s easy to be a little more arrogant about an illness that may be milder for you, but it only perpetuates the risk and perpetuates the cycle of exposure that therefore puts the most vulnerable people in our communities at risk. pretty serious, ”Duckro said.