5 Reasons Flu Cases Are Way Down This Year

‘I don’t want to jinx us, but this may turn out to be the mildest flu season on record’

Bo Stapler, MD
Elemental
Published in
5 min readJan 9, 2021

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A portrait of a young woman wile wearing a face mask for protection from cold and flu and viruses.
Photo: recep-bg/E+/Getty Images

It’s nearly halfway through the 2020–2021 flu season, and as I walk the halls of the hospital where I work, I realize none of the patients are here with influenza. In fact, only 925 cases of flu have been confirmed in the United States thus far this season, and none in my home state of Montana. This compares to 63,975 confirmed cases in the United States at the same time last year.

It’s important to note that the true number of flu cases is always larger than the number reported, because many individuals with flu symptoms do not seek testing. The CDC uses the number of confirmed cases to estimate the number of true cases that occur in a given season. In what was considered a moderate 2019–2020 flu season, the CDC estimated a total of 47.5 million cases occurred. Because the number of confirmed cases thus far has been so historically low, the CDC has not yet published an estimate for the total number of cases this season.

Because the flu virus is significantly less contagious than the novel coronavirus, gains from masking are even more pronounced when it comes to influenza.

Remember when experts were worried about what might happen if Covid-19 cases surged at the same time flu season ramped up? Here’s what Dr. Anthony Fauci said about that on August 12, 2020: “We haven’t had a situation with this kind of potential, where we might have two illnesses, one that is of epidemic proportions and the other pandemic, co-circulating at the same time.”

I don’t want to jinx us, but this may turn out to be the mildest flu season on record. It’s a good thing, too, because the coronavirus has given us all we can handle. But aren’t you a little curious about what happened to the flu? Let’s look at the five best explanations as to where it went.

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Bo Stapler, MD
Elemental

Health & science writer on Elemental & other pubs. Hospitalist physician in internal medicine & pediatrics. Interpreter of medical jargon. bostapler.medium.com