What happened to the flu? A light season in the Pittsburgh area could increase, experts say

Flu cases, both locally and in Pennsylvania, remained low compared to the record numbers seen in the 2019-20 flu season. But doctors warned Tuesday that it is still early in the season, and the usual rise in January could coincide with a holiday-driven increase in covid-19 cases.

On December 19, 767 laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza were reported in Pennsylvania. The official flu surveillance season begins in the 40th week of the year – this season, September 27 – and ends in the 20th week of next year. This season ends on May 22nd.

Across the state, just under 130,000 flu cases were confirmed in the 2019-20 season, which ended just as the covid-19 pandemic began taking hold. The flu count did not include cases of covid-19.

Did masks, removal help?

“It could just be the anomaly of a flu season, or it could be that the collective efforts to disguise and distance themselves and not contract, also have an advantage in transmitting flu – and other viral pathogens,” said Dr. . Donald Yealy, chairman of emergencies, said. medicine at UPMC.

He said it was too early to say what had caused so little flu activity in the state so far this season.

“I would not declare victory yet,” he said. “Many times the flu season only starts in January or even in February, so there is still opportunity.”

He said the low flu numbers had played out not only in UPMC but also in Allegheny County. The health department has reported 35 cases since December 19.

Last year, during the flu season 2019-2020, 3,311 cases were reported on December 21st.

Increase the arrival, but by how much?

Dr Marc Itskowitz, an internal medicine physician at Allegheny Health Network, said there was concern that an increase in flu cases in January could coincide with an increase in covid-19 cases caused by holiday trips and events in recent weeks. of December.

He said the increase in the number of cases could come two to three weeks after the trip and meeting, and hospitalizations could follow within two or three weeks.

Yealy said while he can not predict the timing or severity of future flu or covid-19 seizures, it is all certain.

“What I’m sure of is that in the coming weeks there will be more respiratory viruses from one of the two,” he said. “The question is how much will it cost, and we just do not know.”

There have been no cases of flu at UPMC or AHN so far this season.

There are also few flu cases in Westmoreland

Dr Carol Fox, chief medical officer at Excela Health, said flu activity was also low in Westmoreland County, noting that there had not yet been the “usual increase” in cases that often start in late November or December.

She also said it could be due to the mitigation measures to slow down the spread of covid-19.

Low case scores mean that the State Department of Health has not released a breakdown of flu numbers by country. The numbers for each country will be released if it is at a level ‘that protects the confidentiality of the patient’s health information’, according to the website.

Therefore, the number of flu cases was not available to Westmoreland County, which does not have its own department of health at the provincial level. The province ended the 2019-20 season with 3,636 confirmed cases.

Itskowitz warns against drawing parallels between covid-19 and flu numbers or between the effects of mitigation efforts. The two are not comparable.

“Flu is just less contagious than covid-19 is,” he said.

He noted that most people who catch the flu will have symptoms within a day or two, while those infected with covid-19 will not be able to show symptoms for up to two weeks – if they do. This dramatically reduces the opportunities for asymptomatic and presymptomatic spread, he said.

Influenza deaths: 102 versus covid: 15,300

In the 26 weeks that the flu season 2019-20 exists – September 29 to March 28 – there were 102 deaths related to flu. In the nearly 43 weeks since the first case of covid-19 was diagnosed in Pennsylvania, more than 15,300 people across the state have died from the virus.

There are no previous numbers comparing covid-19 cases, and Yealy said it is even difficult to compare the two viruses beyond the surface.

“What is similar to the two is that both are spread by close contact and that they are both respiratory viruses,” he said. ‘Yes, the flu kills a lot. This (covid-19) is related to even more death and suffering.

‘Just saying’ this is the flu ‘is a dramatic understatement. And that’s not an excuse for not doing the right thing. ‘

Megan Guza is a staff writer for Tribune Review. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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