2020 Southern Hemisphere flu: any lessons?
A while ago we said how Thailand’s typical flu season didn’t seem to be happening this year (see: “Where’s the flu gone?”) perhaps as a result of all the extra measures being taken against the Covid-19 virus, ie social distancing, hand-hygiene and mask wearing.
Since then, the remarkable picture has continued. At the time of writing, there have been just 3 positive cases in the last 26 weeks and at one point Thailand went 20 consecutive weeks through the middle of the traditional flu season without a single positive test result. (As reported by the Thai National Influenza Center, http://thainihnic.org/influenza/main.php)
This picture reflects our own experience at Be Well Medical Center, where, happily, all types of cough and cold symptoms have been something of a waiting room rarity.
Thailand is not alone in missing out on a big flu season this year. A similar picture has been reported all across the southern hemisphere where the typical annual flu season is now drawing to a close. On three continents, exemplified by Australia & New Zealand, Chile and South Africa, positive test results for the flu have been very much less this year.
Limited resources and the big focus on Covid-19 may have meant that many countries were testing for coronavirus but not so much for influenza virus. While this may explain the results in some countries, it certainly doesn’t explain the situation in Australia, where they’ve actually done more flu tests this year than last – and their results make for interesting reading.
In 2020, Australia’s positive flu tests have been only 7% of those seen at the same stage in 2019 (298,120 versus 21,156) and deaths from influenza have been only about 4.5% of those in 2019 (36 versus 812).
Thus almost 800 fewer people have died this year from flu in Australia. By way of comparison, Australia’s current death toll from Covid-19 stands at 905.
While we mustn’t read too much into cherry-picked data from one country alone, the lack of influenza cases right across the Southern Hemisphere this year (Australia, New Zealand, Chile, South Africa) raises the possibility that this winter’s flu season in the Northern Hemisphere might not be the much-feared ‘double-whammy’ of Covid-19 and influenza. Let us hope so.
(Note, if you are considering a return trip to the Northern Hemisphere this winter, we nonetheless recommend that you take the new Northern Hemisphere flu vaccine before you leave Thailand, especially if you are in one of the high-risk groups. See here for more on the Northern Hemisphere flu vaccine.)