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Pandemic silver lining: no flu deaths, only 3 hospitalizations this season




Cases of seasonal influenza almost evaporated during COVID-19. This is mainly due to pandemic-related safety measures such as masking in public places and physical distance.

Almost three-quarters of the 2020-21 influenza season had a total of 136 cases of influenza and only three hospitalizations, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Maine. There has never been an outbreak or death.

At this point last year, just as the pandemic began to take root, there were already 36 deaths, 81 outbreaks, 494 hospitalizations and 10,000 cases. By mid-March 2018, the worst influenza season in Maine in recent memory, there were 6,973 cases of seasonal influenza, 1,326 hospitalizations, 122 outbreaks and 71 deaths.

Dr. Jody Hermann, chairman of the University of New England’s School of Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine and a physician in Maine, Augusta, said the significant reduction in influenza cases was certainly surprising and could be due to multiple causes. Said it was expensive.

“But I think the overall point of take-out is how we change our habits,” she said. “No one is sneezing or wiping a person’s face.”

Hermann said he can’t remember having one patient hospitalized for the flu this season.

Dr. James Jarvis of Northern Light Health, the parent company of Maine Medical Center in Bangor and Mercy Hospital in Portland, said experts predicted a reduction in influenza cases, but no one expected these numbers. It was. He said he had spoken to many people who hadn’t had a cold for over a year.

“I think the fact that masking helps prevent respiratory illness is certainly reliable,” he said.

The number of cases reported by the state reflects only those confirmed by lab tests. The actual numbers are much higher than reported, as many have recovered at home and have not been tested.

Over the last five years, influenza-related deaths have ranged from a maximum of 82 in the 2017-18 season to a minimum of 29 in 2018-19.

Other states have reported a similar dramatic reduction in influenza cases, hospitalizations and deaths. For example, the New York Department of Health reported last week that the number of flu cases this time last year exceeded 147,000, while this year there were cases of flu confirmed in 3,914 laboratories. According to Concord Monitor, the nearby state of New Hampshire has had an average of about 50 deaths over the past few years, followed by only two flu-related deaths this season.

National data on seasonal flu is not edited long after the end of the season (usually late May), but there are already some notable data points. During the 2019-20 flu season, there were 196 deaths from childhood flu. Only one child died of the flu this season.

Pandemic-related restrictions may have played a major role in reducing infection rates, but last fall there was also a large public health campaign to encourage influenza vaccination.

Hermann said he certainly encouraged more patients to get the flu vaccine than last year to provide a protective layer against COVID-19.

“It’s very difficult for the body to fight two things at the same time,” she said.

The number of people vaccinated against the flu this season is not yet known, but vaccination rates have risen since bottoming out in 2017-18. That season, the US CDC found that only 37% of adult Americans were vaccinated against the flu. This is one of the lowest rates in a few years. There were a record number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths during the season. In February 2018, churches throughout Maine took unusual steps at the time to suspend traditional rituals, such as sharing communion wine and shaking hands. This is a widely practiced measure today. During the 2019-20 flu season, the proportion of vaccinated adults increased to 48.4% and the proportion of Maine was about 53%, ranking 16th among the states.

Jarvis said the Northern Lights flu vaccination campaign was active last summer and early fall, and people responded.

“Given the success of the flu, I think it sends a strong message that vaccination is a way to overcome this pandemic,” he said.

Influenza may appear tame when compared to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it can still be very serious, especially among children, the elderly, and people with weakened immunity. There is. Pregnant women are also at high risk. Symptoms of the flu include fever, chills, coughing, sore throat, muscle and body pain, and malaise. These are all similar to the symptoms of COVID-19.

In the early stages of the pandemic, some people mistakenly compared the severity of COVID-19 to influenza, even though COVID was much more infectious and fatal.

For comparison, the largest number of deaths from influenza in Maine in recent years (82 in the 2017-18 influenza season) is compared to last year’s COVID-19 deaths (729). Is getting smaller. By the way, COVID-19 is nine times as deadly as the state’s most deadly recent flu season.

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