Olsen SJ, Azziz-Baumgartner E, Budd AP, et al. Decreased Influenza Activity During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, Australia, Chile, and South Africa, 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2020;69(37):1305-1309
After recognition of widespread community transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), by mid- to late February 2020, indicators of influenza activity began to decline in the Northern Hemisphere. These changes were attributed to both artifactual changes related to declines in routine health seeking for respiratory illness as well as real changes in influenza virus circulation because of widespread implementation of measures to mitigate transmission of SARS-CoV-2. Data from clinical laboratories in the United States indicated a 61% decrease in the number of specimens submitted (from a median of 49,696 per week during September 29, 2019-February 29, 2020, to 19,537 during March 1-May 16, 2020) and a 98% decrease in influenza activity as measured by percentage of submitted specimens testing positive (from a median of 19.34% to 0.33%). Interseasonal (i.e., summer) circulation of influenza in the United States (May 17-August 8, 2020) is currently at historical lows (median = 0.20% tests positive in 2020 versus 2.35% in 2019, 1.04% in 2018, and 2.36% in 2017). Influenza data reported to the World Health Organization´s (WHO´s) FluNet platform from three Southern Hemisphere countries that serve as robust sentinel sites for influenza from Oceania (Australia), South America (Chile), and Southern Africa (South Africa) showed very low influenza activity during June-August 2020, the months that constitute the typical Southern Hemisphere influenza season. In countries or jurisdictions where extensive community mitigation measures are maintained (e.g., face masks, social distancing, school closures, and teleworking), those locations might have little influenza circulation during the upcoming 2020-21 Northern Hemisphere influenza season. The use of community mitigation measures for the COVID-19 pandemic, plus influenza vaccination, are likely to be effective in reducing the incidence and impact of influenza, and some of these mitigation measures could have a role in preventing influenza in future seasons. However, given the novelty of the COVID-19 pandemic and the uncertainty of continued community mitigation measures, it is important to plan for seasonal influenza circulation in the United States this fall and winter. Influenza vaccination of all persons aged ≥6 months remains the best method for influenza prevention and is especially important this season when SARS-CoV-2 and influenza virus might cocirculate.
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