Flu cases down more than 12,000 this year compared to 2019 flu season

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As flu season comes to a close, cases this year have been significantly lower than in years past.
We spoke to two experts who shared why that might be.

“For whatever reason, the whole season has been a big nothing,” said Dr. Noe Mateo, an infectious disease consultant at Sanford Bismarck Hospital.

Dr. Mateo says he can’t recall treating any flu patients this year. Everyone he’s seen has been COVID positive.

“The point here is that between those two viruses, that means the COVID-19, the SARS-Coronavirus-2, is that it’s much more contagious. It’s that much more infectious. It’s that much more capable of spreading to a person far more efficiently than influenza virus,” Dr. Mateo said.

For the 2019-20 flu season, there were nearly 12,500 cases.

So far, the state has seen just 196 for the 2020-21 season.

We spoke with an influenza surveillance coordinator from the Department of Health who says the decrease in cases could be attributed to things people have been doing to protect themselves from the coronavirus — like hand washing, social distancing and mask-wearing.

“The concern is making sure that we’re testing for influenza if someone does meet the signs and symptoms of it. Those are very can be difficult to tell apart from COVID-19 — both are respiratory illnesses and share many similar symptoms. It may be difficult to tell the difference and that’s why it’s important to make sure we’re testing for both,” said Levi Schlosser.

Dr. Mateo says he hopes masking up during flu season becomes a habit, even after the pandemic.

“We mask up and we protect ourselves against any and all respiratory viruses. It’s going to be right up there with the dentist saying, ‘Ah, you oughta brush your teeth every day, or every night, every day.’ Just wear a mask during the wintertime. It’s good for you!” Dr. Mateo said.

Schlosser says 279,000 doses of the influenza vaccine have been given out this year. He says that’s an increase compared to the number of doses given last year.

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