Experts say COVID-19 measures likely behind unseasonably low flu activity

You can add seasonal flu to the list of things that just have not been normal since the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Late January to early February is typically the peak of flu season here in the Sunshine State. However, cases of the respiratory virus remain unusually low.

"It may be a little too early to say there is no flu season, but at this point, we really have not seen influenza circulating really at all in our community," said Michael Wiese, an epidemiologist with the Florida Department of Health.

And that’s definitely unusual.

According to the Florida Department of Health, almost every county in Florida is reporting mild to no flu activity. In fact, positive cases have been sporadic since the season started. Compared to the last three seasons, influenza is typically widespread this time of year.

"We don’t really know whether it’s because it would have normally been a mild flu year, but I really do think that the public health measures we’re taking to prevent coronavirus infection are also affecting flu transmission," said Dr. Michael Teng, a virologist with University of South Florida Health.

Meaning all of the extra disinfecting, hand washing, and mask-wearing is doing double duty.

Experts say those measures, combined with other factors like more people being vaccinated, people and children not gathering in large groups, and reduced international travel, are likely keeping the spread of flu-like illness low. 

"If you take these things seriously, it’s not just the pandemic you can knock down it’s a lot of these respiratory pathogens," said Teng.

The trend is not just here in the Sunshine State. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports minimal flu infections nationwide, much lower than usual for this time of the year.

"I actually hope some of the practices stick," Wiese said. "I think people this year more than ever have been much more attuned to their personal health and when they don’t feel well they don’t go out, they don’t try to go to work."

Experts say while flu cases are still low, that could change in the coming months.

There is a lot of overlap between COVID-19 and influenza, so it is not a bad idea to be tested for the flu if you get a negative coronavirus test.