Q&A – Has COVID-19 Become The New Seasonal Flu?

Today’s entry: It would be interesting to know where we stand with H1N1 cases in comparison to other years at this time because it seems everything is COVID. 

Bottom Line: Since the onset of flu season in September, I’ve advanced the theory that COVID-19 may already be the new seasonal flu. My theory was straight-forward. The most common form of seasonal flu is the H1N1 virus. The H1N1 strain was first introduced to the United States in 1918 resulting in the worst pandemic in American history. It's one that still dwarfs what we’ve experienced with COVID to date. While the impact of H1N1 pales in comparison to where it started, it’s still responsible for tens of thousands of American deaths annually and it's usually what flu vaccinations target each year. If we’re still chasing it 102 years later, there was always the chance COVID would be a different version of a similar thing. 

The second aspect of my theory is that COVID would become this year’s seasonal flu. This is predicated on COVID being spread the same way as the traditional flu but being 2.5 times more contagious. If you’re going to catch a virus, it’s literally 250% more likely you’d catch COVID before the flu. Despite the extent of the pandemic this year, only 4% of Americans have had the virus. That’s a lot of opportunity for spread. 

The third aspect of my theory centers on our protective measures. Heading into flu season, I mentioned it was logical to think the traditional flu wouldn’t be as likely to be spread due to our behavior. That remains the case. As a society we’ve never worn masks and socially distanced, those are effective for stopping the spread of the much less contagious traditional flu as well. Add in better hygiene, fewer events, negligible travel, and voila. All of this seems to be playing out in real-time. We can refer to the CDC’s flu map.

A year ago today, eight states had at least a high level of flu outbreaks. Six additional states, including Florida, had elevated activity. So, what about this year? Only one state has high activity, Iowa. And, North Dakota reports having elevated activity. That’s a dramatic difference. Taking a closer look at Florida, there are only three counties with outbreaks and none are in South Florida. The outbreaks are mild in those counties and our statewide trend is stable. It’s the most benign start to flu season since the CDC began publishing their map. This while the virus is spiking across the country, around the world, and right here in Florida. Some have suggested all viral cases are being classified as COVID cases, that’s not true. The CDC is actively tracking the other strains and it's just not that big of an issue, unlike the coronavirus which seems to have taken its place this flu season.

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Photo by: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

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