BEIJING (Reuters) – Global social distancing regulations targeting coronovirus have shown influenza infection rates to a record low, preliminary data indicating that measures are having an unprecedented impact on other communicable diseases.
Visitors to the pub in Stone, UK, July 30, 2020, have been given a sign promoting social distance at a post near the Crown and Anchor pub following a spike in cases of coronovirus disease (COVID-19). REUTER / Carl Rein
In China, where broad-scale lockout measures first began, new reports, including marigold, measles and some sexually transmitted diseases, have dropped significantly, although the sharpest drop has been seen in influenza cases.
Infections recorded monthly by the county’s Ministry of Health have dropped more than 90% since the start of the lockdown, ranging from an average of about 290,000 cases a month to 23,000.
Canada’s flu surveillance system also reported “exceptionally low levels” of influenza in a recent report, as have other countries that report weekly flu surveillance data, including the UK and Australia.
In its most recent weekly report, the Infectious Diseases Portal of South Korea reported an 83% decrease in cases from the same period a year earlier.
“We have seen the lowest rates of other viral infections this year,” said Ben Benai, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Sydney at the Children’s Unit at Westmead Hospital.
“We normally have wards full of children with whey in the winter at this time of year … but this year the wards are essentially empty,” he said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there are approximately 3-5 million serious illnesses associated with seasonal influenza worldwide and 500,000 deaths annually.
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While experts say the drop in influenza infection has reduced pressure on the healthcare system and reduced the number of influenza, there is also concern that the unprecedented drop in cases could negatively impact immune levels in the following seasons is.
“It could be that if we don’t make the transition this season then there will be more sensitive people next season, that’s definitely something that we have to monitor carefully,” Marais said. “This season passed us, it seems.”
Lower numbers of some infectious diseases may also be associated with lower reporting rates.
A recent report by the WHO said that influenza surveillance data “should be interpreted with caution” due to the limited capacity of reporting in some countries during the epidemic.
The effect of lockdown on other diseases with a long onset period, including HIV and tuberculosis, may not be evident for years to come.
In China, about 70% of new mumps cases and more than 90% of post-lockout measles occurred.
There were an average of about 7,500 gonorrhea cases per month since the lockdown, down from 12,100 a month in 2019.
Hepatitis, which infected around 1.2 million Chinese people according to the reporting system last year, was down more than 20% in the same period.
Reporting by Kate Cadell, additional reporting by Sangmi Cha in South Korea; Editing by Michael Perry