Lockdowns and new health habits help number of flu sufferers fall to 130-year low
Written by Hit Music Radio News on 31/01/2021
The number of people suffering from the flu in England has plunged by more than 95% to levels not seen for 130 years.
Data experts at the Royal College of General Practices (RCGP) said that in the third week of January – usually a peak time for the flu – the number of flu-like illnesses reported to doctors was 0.9 per 100,000 people compared with a five-year average of 27.
It is believed that measures designed to tame the COVID-19 pandemic – as well as increased publicity about the importance of having the flu vaccine this year – are quashing influenza and many other respiratory diseases.
Out of 3.9 million patients at 385 GP practices in England monitored by the RCGP, only 35 had the flu last week.
And The Sunday Times reports that in the second week of January, the flu positivity rate – a standard measurement of flu in the community – was 0%. Not one of the 1,894 samples tested positive.
Simon de Lusignan, a professor of primary care and clinical informatics, and director of the RCGP’s research and surveillance centre, told Sky News he believed the combination of travel bans, social distancing and hand-washing had all had a “really positive effect on the normal winter transmissions”.
He added: “In our ‘old way’ of living, much more would have been passed around.”
And he pointed to RCGP data that also showed a sharp drop in the number of cases of infectious gastro intestinal bugs in the days and weeks after the first lockdown – when messaging around repeated hand-washing began.
“There is so much evidence around hand-washing. If there is a pandemic again, some of these measures will undoubtedly remain in the armamentarium,” he added.
He said primary care centres had also done “really well this year” with the number of flu immunisations, which in the over-65s were up on previous years to around 78%.
Hospitals are normally full of flu patients at this time of year, with the NHS as a whole struggling to cope.
The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) is reporting a huge drop in the number of flu cases in America, too.
The CDC said incidence of the virus dropped sharply within two weeks of the government declaring a national emergency back in March 2020.
From a flu test positivity rate of 19% during September to February 2019, it declined to just 0.3% from March to May – a trend that has continued.
CDC researchers also put the drop down to school closures, bans on mass gatherings and stay-at-home orders originally to prevent coronavirus, but which also helped stop community spread of the flu.
“The global decline in influenza virus circulation appears to be real and concurrent with the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated community mitigation measures,” a CDC statement said.
© Sky News 2020