While COVID-19 cases are widespread throughout Kentucky, measures taken to curb the virus’ spread have apparently had a huge effect on reducing influenza transmission this year.
According to Kentucky Department of Public Health, as of December 5, the last figures available, there had been just 180 cases of flu statewide. During the seven-day period from Nov. 29 to Dec. 5, just 21 new cases were reported in the entire state.
That same week, the state reported 24,078 new cases of COVID-19.There have now been a total of 224,890 people who have tested positive statewide for COVID-19, and 2,224 have died.
No one in Kentucky has died from flu this year.
Doctors and health officials put the reduction in flu down to increased precautions put in place for COVID-19 and the fact that flu is not nearly as contagious as COVID-19.
“The incidence of influenza so far can be attributed to two things, first everybody is wearing a mask and masks protect people from the flu,” said Dr. Fares Khater, infectious disease specialist at Mountain Comprehensive Health Corporation’s Whitesburg Clinic. “Any otherflu season, we’re telling people to stay away from people three to six feet if they have the flu, and we’re doing that. Also, there is more acceptance to take the flu vaccine than in any other year.”
Khater said there is no doubt that the measures taken have prevented many cases of COVID-19, but people are becoming fatigued with staying at home, wearing masks, and avoiding gatherings. The number of cases is so much higher than flu simply because it is “a lot more contagious than flu. A lot,” and also because, unlike flu, there has been no vaccine available to slow down the spread.
A study by the Broad Institute in Massachusetts and published in the journal Science, traced the genetic-fingerprint of COVID 19 cases to determine how it spread. It found a single infected person at a biotech conference in Boston in February eventually caused the infection of 245,000 people across at least 18 states and at least three foreign countries.
“First, we don’t have a vaccine yet, until today,” Khater said Monday, the first day the vaccine was given in the United States. “Second, people are letting their guard down during Thanksgiving and the holidays.”
He said doctors have been looking at Australia, where the seasons are reversed from those in the Northern Hemisphere. Winter is over there, and flu cases were greatly reduced from last year.
Scott Lockard, Director of Public Health for the Kentucky River District Health Department, said the decrease in flu cases has been a topic of discussion in several conference calls within the healthcare community, with some predicting that this will continue to be a very light year for flu.
“All the things that we’re doing to inhibit the spread of COVID also inhibit the spread of influenza,” Lockard said.
“Some of them (other public health officials) said they think we would have the mildest flu season in years this year because normally flu spreads around the globe through travel,” he said. “We’re just not having that and we’re not having the mass gatherings, which are a major way that flu spreads.”