OUR response to the COVID-19 pandemic has led to historically low levels of influenza circulating in the community, leading experts to hope measures such as social distancing, mask-wearing and hand hygiene will continue to keep flu in check this coming season.
FluTracking founder Dr Craig Dalton said the number of lab-confirmed flu cases in January 2021 was 1 per cent of the cases seen in January 2020, prior to COVID-19 social distancing measures becoming part of daily life.
The Hunter New England public health physician and University of Newcastle Conjoint Associate Professor said a typical flu season in Australia resulted in about 60,000 infections nationally in peak months.
In 2020 that dropped to less than 200 cases per month in July and August.
Dr Dalton said they had been "shocked" to see influenza rates drop week by week as COVID controls were introduced.
"I don't think you'd find a flu expert who would have thought it would be so easy to stop flu transmission," Dr Dalton said. "The rate of cough and fever fell so precipitously and stayed there.
"Even though we've seen things like RSV and rhinovirus, the common cold virus, creep back in, we actually thought that by around about now, with cooler weather, we'd have been seeing an increase in flu circulation, but we're not. It may be that the hotel quarantine is effectively keeping influenza off our shores too."
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But Dr Dalton said 2022 could be a more "severe" flu year following these "milder" seasons.
He encouraged more people to participate in FluTracking's quick, weekly survey via info.FluTracking.net.
"It gives a unique insight you wouldn't normally get," he said. "All the monitoring systems are really important, but the niche that FluTracking fills is that it tells us about the people who don't have the lab tests. It gives us this grass roots reality check as to what is happening out in the community.
"The FluTracking data may also give us warning that we need to be careful should COVID spill over.
"It may indicate we are at further risk of transmission, as it gives us a good idea about how much mixing is happening."
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