One of the few positive sides of the Covid epidemic is the fact that those who have been fortunate enough to avoid contracting the coronavirus also appear to have avoided other viruses such as common colds and influenza.
Usually at this time of year, many of us will have had a bout or two of cold or flu during the winter months, but there has been no talk of bugs this year. One 80-year-old woman we spoke to said “I usually get a bout that lays me low for a few days, but this year I’ve had nothing.” She claims she’ll be wearing a mask and carrying hand gel to shops and other indoor places where people gather in future, regardless of the coronavirus.
The flu, in fact, appears to have virtually disappeared. Last year, 36 people died as result of complications involving flu in the Canaries. 23 were pensioners, 12 were adults aged between 18 and 65 and one was a child. 94% of these victims had risk factors such as diabetes or heart disease, and most cases involved the A(H1N1) flu subtype (different strains of which caused the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic and the 2009 swine flu pandemic). This was a relatively bad flu season, although not as bad as 2018-19, when 68 died on the islands.
So far this year, no cases of flu have been reported on the Canaries, during the time of year when the virus is at its most prevalent. Eight confirmed cases have been diagnosed in Spain, and the FluNet site reports just 387 confirmed cases from 237,000 samples worldwide.
There are several reasons why the flu has not arrived this year. First, of course, are the measures that have been introduced to contain the spread of the coronavirus. In fact, protocols such as hand-washing are based on flu measures, and may be more effective against the flu than they are against the coronavirus, which does not appear to be transmitted by surfaces frequently.
Mask use, distancing, closure of events and, most importantly, strict measures at schools (children are usually one of the most important vectors in flu transmission), have all prevented any return of the flu this year.
Second, there’s the flu jab, which saw a record take-up in the Canaries last year. Flu vaccinations don’t prevent the virus completely, but they cut down the likelihood of infection considerably, and in this case they are an important factor in ensuring the flu never got a foothold.
Thirdly, there’s the coronavirus itself, which may be providing competition for the main flu strains. Research has shown that transmission of new strains may be delayed in communities where another respiratory virus is already widespread.
Finally, it may be that colds and flu simply aren’t being detected. Anyone suffering from symptoms is encouraged to call their doctor, who will assess their symptoms. If they correspond with the coronavirus (dry cough, fever, loss of taste and smell), a test may be booked. If not, the patient is likely to be prescribed drugs remotely and told to stay at home until they recover. No samples will be taken, and no flu will be detected.
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