Flu season remains mild in Pa., due in part to COVID mitigation efforts


YORK, Pa. (WHTM) — In Oct. 2020, abc27 News reported that flu season remained mild going into the winter months. In Jan. 2021, the trends are similar.

At the start of flu season, Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said “it was hard to tell” what direction the flu season would go in during its first few weeks, despite reports showing fewer cases than usual.

Now-outgoing Secretary Levine said she wouldn’t be surprised if one of the few good things about the pandemic ended up being fewer flu cases–thanks to the same things Pennsylvanians are asked to do to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Rite Aid also told abc27 News in October people were getting more flu shots. But again, it was early in the season.

Well now it’s not so early, and current figures show about one-third fewer flu diagnoses in Pennsylvania compared to Jan. 2020, specifically 10-thousand compared to 15-thousand. Those numbers mirror a national trend.

“The flu season this year has been light,” Ray Barishansky said.

Barishanksy is the Deputy Secretary of Health Preparedness and Community Protection at the Pennsylvania Department of Health. He says this could be for a number of reasons.

“But definitely one of the predominant reasons for this would be that the various public health actions that we’re asking the public to engage in,” Barishansky said. “These are the same things that can impact the flu.”

The deputy secretary encourages all Pennsylvanians to keep wearing masks, washing their hands, and to limit social gatherings.

“[The] flu transmits the same way as COVID, and we’re gonna block that when we block [the virus],” Barishansky said.

Justin Lesser teaches epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University. He says he hopes some of the changes Pennsylvania’s made become permanent.

“After the first SARS epidemic, which wasn’t nearly as bad as this. There was a lot of change in behavior in Asia. People started wearing masks when they felt sick,” Lesser said.

And even though it’s no longer so early in the flu season, it’s also not nearly over.

“It’s still very important to get a flu vaccine. That’s probably the most important thing for flu season,” Lesser said.

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