There has been a 98% plummet in flu infections this year, dispelling fears of a Covid and flu ‘twin-demic’ about which many had warned. Experts say we can thank masks and social distancing. But does this really add up?
Although there is no mass testing for flu as there is for Covid, the WHO says that surveillance of data from around the world shows flu rates collapsing everywhere. Australia essentially ‘skipped’ their flu season this year, with not a single case reported since July (their peak). In fact, flu has more or less vanished throughout the Southern Hemisphere, and early indicators suggest it will follow suit north of the equator. What can explain this unprecedented decline?
Where did it go?
To my mind there are three possibilities.
The first is that it only seems like the flu has disappeared because doctors and scientists have been wrongly classing other respiratory diseases as Covid. Please note that the boffins are already treating this suggestion as something akin to flat-Earth theory.
The second is that Covid has ‘crowded out’ the flu. It does seem to be the case that you cannot be sick with two viruses at once. A recent study from Yale University found that of 13,000 patients admitted to in a major hospital with respiratory diseases, practically no one ever had both a cold and the flu at the same time. In fact, lung tissue that had been previously exposed to the cold virus was immune to the flu virus.
But the scientists say that this solution doesn’t add up: no more than a fifth of the population has been exposed to Covid, and so everyone else should be fertile ground for the flu. But if they are wrong, and Covid is actually far more widespread than the scientists think, ‘virus crowding’ could be contributing to flu’s downfall. (The question is why Covid would have won this battle so completely, for there to be essentially zero flu cases and millions of Covid ones – surely the flu would have gotten to some people before Covid did?)
The third possibility is the scientists’ explanation. Before I give it, please note that either of the first two possibilities, if correct, would render ridiculous the entire response to Covid, not least because it would mean Covid is far less dangerous than has been widely asserted.