Social distancing measures and the closure of public places shortened the seasonal flu epidemic, which ended abruptly in April. Death rates from other diseases such as chickenpox and measles also fell significantly. However, it will be difficult to assess the overall impact on mortality.
Seasonal flu causes between 290,000 and 650,000 deaths worldwide each year, depending on the length of the epidemic and the effectiveness of the vaccine. This year, however, containment and social distancing measures have abruptly ended the season and potentially saved hundreds of thousands of lives, according to the World Health Organization, which tracks flu cases through the FluNet network.
“Overall, flu activity is lower than expected for this season. In the temperate zone of the northern hemisphere, there has been a sharp decline in flu activity in recent weeks,” the organization said. The number of cases has dropped considerably since the last week of March, coinciding with the introduction of containment measures. The flu season has been shortened by six weeks compared to other years.
Local data confirm the trend. In Hong Kong, for example, the flu epidemic period was 63.2% shorter than the average for the last 5 years and the number of deaths was reduced by 62.3%, according to a study published in the BMJ on May 4, although the season started on a similar date to the previous winter (first week of January).
Almost 36 cases of rubella in the world this year!
Other infectious diseases have declined dramatically this year, says Pak-Leung Ho, co-author of the study and an infectious disease researcher at the Hong Kong University in Nature. The number of cases of chickenpox in Hong Kong has decreased by half or even three quarters compared to previous years. April saw the lowest cases of measles and rubella since at least 2016: Worldwide, only 36 cases of rubella were recorded in April, according to preliminary data. These diseases, which particularly affect children, were probably stopped by the closure of schools, said Justice Pak-Leung Ho.
The 2020 flu epidemic was on track to become one of the most severe in decades.
The 2020 flu was expected to be particularly severe. In January, even before the arrival of Covid-19, the epidemic had begun with a bang, “well on its way to becoming one of the most severe in decades,” according to Nature s. But with the sudden halt in April, perhaps hundreds of thousands of lives were saved. The use of masks, the closure of public places, and social distancing. Ironically, the measures taken to combat Covid-19 appear to have had more impact on the flu than on this new coronavirus itself, according to the BMJ study. As in the case of Sars-Cov2, the flu virus is spread by droplets of breath.
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However, according to the WHO, other factors may have influenced the statistics. For example, patients may have consulted less and visited fewer hospitals for fear of the coronavirus. According to the French Public Health Service, the rate of consultations for flu-like illnesses was half that of 2019 this year, and the spring of 2020 has also been particularly hot in Europe, weakening the virus. After all, it is possible that older people who would normally have died of influenza have been swept away by the coronavirus beforehand.
Social distancing measures for COVID 19 and the closure of public places shortened the seasonal flu epidemic, which might have saved thousands of lives.