While the pandemic dominates every aspect of life everywhere, Doctors say something quietly remarkable is happening to another typically dangerous virus, leaving them with a question: What happened to the flu?
Statistics show flu numbers are not only very low, they might be the lowest seasonal numbers in recorded history.
In the last flu season, from 2019 to 2020, the CDC recorded 38,000,000 flu cases in the U.S., 405,000 were hospitalized, and 22,000 deaths from the virus.
In the last several months in Washington State, there have been zero documented deaths because of the flu.
“It’s not just a Puget Sound thing, it’s not just Washington State, it’s the entire country,” said Dr. Paul Pottinger, who studies and teaches virus behavior and infectious diseases at UW Medicine.
“In fact, this is happening on most of our planet.”
Some doctors believe the low numbers could be attributed to mask wearing and staying away from people. Others theorize a benefit stems from the push to get the flu shot and the lack of international travel. (Typically seasonal flu strains originate in Southeast Asia, according to doctors, but flu numbers are low there, too.)
Any way you cut it, doctors say there are virtually no flu cases at all this season, a phenomenon they call one of the great mysterious vanishing acts of a virus they’ve ever seen.
“Somehow we decided to shoo the flu,” Pottinger said. “I don’t know that we did it on purpose, I’m not sure we can take credit for it. It’s one of the great mysteries of epidemiology is where is the influenza?”
Dr. Pottinger partially credits the flu shot. As of Christmas Day, 192.3 million doses of flu vaccine had been given to people in the U.S., which is the most ever delivered.
Between this time last year and March, flu cases were very high and even raging in some places around Washington State.