Woman wearing a mask

Decreased Rates of Influenza this Winter Likely Due to COVID-19 Precautions  

Amid the backdrop of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, cases of influenza have been unusually low across the United States this season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

That trend is holding true in Michigan based on reporting from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ Weekly Influenza Surveillance Report, which tracks influenza-like illness in the state. Only 24 patients sought treatment for the flu during the third week in January 2021, compared to 321 care visits over the same time of year in 2020.  

Nationally, there has been one pediatric death from the flu during the 2020-2021 season so far. Last year, 195 children died from the flu in the U.S., including six in Michigan. 

Experts believe the same mitigation strategies put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19 are working to tamp down cases of the flu. Just like COVID-19, influenza is a contagious respiratory illness. Masking, social distancing and an increased focus on handwashing and hygiene help to stop the spread of the much more contagious COVID-19 and are likely doing the same to stop the spread of the flu. Additionally, more children and adults are learning and working virtually at home, which means less chance for the flu to spread.   

Still, the CDC and MDHHS urge people who have not yet been vaccinated against the flu to get their shot. Michigan ranks 38th in the nation for flu vaccination coverage and falls below the national average of 51.8%. With a goal to vaccinate more than 4.3 million people during this flu season, Michigan had administered 3.2 million doses as of Jan. 16, 2021, or about 75% of the target. The flu shot is a covered benefit under the Affordable Care Act.  

“Getting the annual flu shot is an important step to protect your health and the health of those around you, especially this year when flu symptoms may be confused with COVID-19,” said Anita Fox, director, Michigan Department of Insurance and Financial Services in a December news release from MDHHS.    

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan partnered with Alana’s Foundation and many other community partners and businesses to hold large-scale flu shot clinics to ensure people in underserved communities throughout the state could access the flu shot this season. 

“Thanks to partnerships with community organizations throughout the state, we were able to greatly increase flu shot accessibility for communities most in need,” said Suzanne Miller Allen, senior director of Community Responsibility and Social Mission, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.   

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Photo credit: Getty Images

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