“Every year we expect an epidemic of flu,” says Laraine Washer, medical director of infection prevention and epidemiology at Michigan Medicine. “It occurs anywhere from November to April. And we just haven’t seen that this year.” As of mid-February, she says, the health system had yet to treat “a documented, laboratory-confirmed influenza.”
Anurag Malani, medical director for infection prevention for the St. Joseph Mercy Health System, says they haven’t seen a lab-documented flu, either. And it’s not just us: an expert interviewed on NPR in February said only 165 hospitalizations had been reported nationwide.
Michigan Medicine physician Julie Barrett, who has been working with Covid-19 patients since the pandemic began, points to the infection precautions it instilled: hand-washing, mask-wearing, social distancing. Washer agrees–“people are just not interacting in the same ways that would allow them to transmit flu”–but she also thinks there’s “some kind of competition” between the flu and ‘Covid-19 viruses, which spread in similar ways.
Whatever the cause, it’s a huge relief. From the start of the pandemic, Barrett says, physicians worried about “Covid on top of a flu season. Hopefully we won’t see that–and hopefully we can get our community vaccinated for Covid.”
Washer says flu is still a threat, and people will still need to get the annual vaccine. While this has been “a unique year,” she stresses, “we expect influenza will come back, as it has for centuries.”