With COVID-19 still dominating headlines, influenza (flu) has been conspicuous in its absence, especially during what is typically peak flu season. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tracks influenza (flu) and pneumonia deaths weekly through the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) Mortality Reporting System.
It also creates a preliminary estimate of the burden of seasonal flu, based on crude rates of lab-confirmed flu hospitalizations. Such estimates are intended to give an idea of how many people have been sick from or died from the flu in any given season — that is, except for 2020.
“April 4, 2020, was the last week in-season preliminary burden estimates were provided,” the CDC wrote on its 2019-2020 U.S. flu season webpage. The reason the estimates stopped in April is because flu cases plummeted so low that they’re hardly worth tracking. In an update posted December 3, 2020, the CDC stated:
They also added, “The number of hospitalizations estimated so far this season is lower than end-of-season total hospitalization estimates for any season since CDC began making these estimates.”
In late summer 2020, warnings surfaced that there might soon be a “twin-demic” of flu and COVID-19 that would decimate the globe. So far, this hasn’t panned out. In the U.S., the CDC reported that the percentage of respiratory specimens submitted for influenza testing that test positive decreased from greater than 20% to 2.3% since the start of the pandemic.
As of September 18, 2020, they noted that positive influenza tests have “remained at historically low interseasonal levels (0.2% versus 1 to 2%).” Further, from September 29, 2019-February 29, 2020 to March 1-May 16, 2020, the CDC noted a 98% decrease in influenza activity.
Similar drops have been observed worldwide, including in the Southern Hemisphere countries of Australia, Chile and Southern Africa, which often serve as sentinels for influenza activity in the U.S.
All three areas had very low influenza activity during June to August 2020, which is their peak flu season. From April to July 2020, only 33 influenza positive test results were detected in Australia; 12 in Chile; and six in South Africa, for a total of 51 positive tests. For comparison, during April to July in 2017 to 2019, 24,512 specimens tested positive for influenza.
It was initially thought that the steep drops in influenza activity were due to decreased testing, since people with respiratory symptoms likely received COVID-19 tests instead. However, according to the CDC, public health officials have made a concerted effort to test for flu, and even though “adequate numbers” have been tested, little to no flu virus has been detected.
In Australia, meanwhile, they tested “markedly more specimens for influenza” this season than usual, yet still detected very few cases of flu. So what happened to the flu?
The “COVID” deaths the CDC has been reporting are actually a combination of pneumonia, flu and COVID-deaths, under a new category listed as “PIC” (pneumonia, Influenza, COVID).
Their COVIDView webpage, which provides a weekly surveillance summary of U.S. COVID-19 activity, states that levels of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and “associated illnesses” have been increasing since September 2020, while the percentage of deaths due to pneumonia, flu and COVID-19 has been on the rise since October.
As noted by professor William M. Briggs, a statistical consultant and policy adviser at the Heartland Institute, a free-market think tank, in the video above, “CDC, up until about July 2020, counted flu and pneumonia deaths separately, been doing this forever, then just mysteriously stopped … It’s become very difficult to tell the difference between these,” referring to the combined tracking of deaths from “PIC.” They’re even using PIC to state that cases are above the epidemic threshold:
It could appear that flu hasn’t just vanished into thin air but rather cases could be being mistaken for COVID-19 — or even intentionally mislabeled as such. Another theory centers on viral interference, which is the phenomenon in which a cell infected by a virus becomes resistant to other viruses; basically, cells are rarely infected with more than one virus, so COVID-19 could be winning out over influenza.
However, with COVID-19 being such a novel virus, with reportedly only a minority of the population having been exposed, there should still be plenty of room for influenza to spread.
According to the CDC, however, flu cases began to decline in response to “widespread adoption of community mitigation measures to reduce transmission of SARS-CoV-2.” In other words, they believe that flu cases have plummeted because of the widespread adoption of mask wearing, social distancing and lockdowns.
In their MMWR weekly report released September 18, 2020, they state, “In the United States, influenza virus circulation declined sharply within 2 weeks of the COVID-19 emergency declaration and widespread implementation of community mitigation measures, including school closures, social distancing and mask wearing, although the exact timing varied by location.”
But here again this leaves many unanswered questions, the primary one being why, if the COVID-19 mitigation efforts are so effective against the spread of flu, are COVID cases still rising? The two viruses are spread basically the same way. As Irish science journalist Peter Andrews put it in RT:
When asked whether he believes lockdowns were responsible for getting rid of the flu, Briggs said in the video, “No, absolutely not. Lockdowns only help spread the flu … Locking down the healthy, quarantining the healthy, is asinine.” Briggs believes that lockdowns would only increase flu infection because the virus spreads more easily when people spend more time indoors, in close quarters with others, in dry, indoor air.
He also pointed to lockdown failures, like the one that occurred in New York City. The mortality rate from COVID-19 reached beyond 50 deaths per million per day in April 2020, despite a full lockdown being implemented in March. The state ordered nursing homes to accept COVID-19 positive patients from hospitals until May 10, when the order was reversed, but by then the virus was already ravaging nursing homes’ elderly residents — the most vulnerable.
“By facilitating the transmission of the virus from hospitals to nursing homes, the rate of spread within the elderly population was maximized, and any possible benefit from lockdown of the young and healthy population was rendered moot,” Dr. Gilbert Berdine, an associate professor of medicine at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, explained.
The CDC is already using the mysteriously low number of flu cases this season as an impetus to suggest that masks, school closures and social distancing could become the new normal every fall to combat the upcoming flu season:
Meanwhile, even while stating that flu cases are next to nonexistent this season, and that the COVID-19 mitigation measures already in place are likely effective at curbing its spread — they still want you to get your flu shot, “especially this season”:
If you want to be proactive, it’s worth remembering that flu shots are controversial, and your chances of getting influenza after vaccination are still greater than 50/50 in any given year.
According to CDC data, for example, the 2017-2018 seasonal influenza vaccine’s effectiveness against “influenza A and influenza B virus infection associated with medically attended acute respiratory illness” was just 36%. Meanwhile, we already know that vitamin D optimization is a good idea, not only for COVID-19 but also for influenza.
- U.S. CDC, 2019-2020 U.S. Flu Season: Preliminary In-Season Burden Estimates
- Daily Mail October 24, 2020
- MMWR September 18, 2020 / 69(37);1305–1309
- COVIDView December 11, 2020
- Ric Clin Lab. Jul-Sep 1975;5(3):196-213. doi: 10.1007/BF02908284
- RT October 26, 2020
- Mises Institute August 15, 2020
- CDC.gov MMWR February 16, 2018; 67(6): 180-185
Copyright © Dr. Joseph Mercola