It's a rare bright light amidst the darkness of the coronavirus pandemic: fewer cases of familiar viruses, like the flu, are cropping up this year than usually do.
Dr. Katherine Gergen Barnett, program director of Boston Medical Center's Department of Family Medicine, called it “perhaps one of the silver linings of what is happening now with the pandemic.
Doctors at hospitals across Massachusetts – and the globe – believe the measures being taken to prevent the spread of coronavirus are responsible.
“The preventative procedures that we’re following, masking and social distancing, are working remarkably well,” said Dr. David Hooper, chief of the infection control unit at Massachusetts General Hospital.
“And we’ve had our school systems predominantly closed or, when kids are going to school, they are wearing masks. I think that’s really probably had a major impact on the amount of these different viruses that we normally expect to see,” said Dr. Richard Ellison, a professor of medicine and infectious diseases at UMass Memorial Medical Center.
These maps from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention illustrate the glaring difference between the low flu activity at the start of 2021 versus the wide spread of flu activity during the same week last year:
But some health experts are concerned there could be a rebound effect.
“Because we have not been exposed to them as much this year, they may take their toll next year,” Gergen Barnett said.
Others believe the pandemic may have a lasting effect on hygiene.
“Even if we dropped mask mandates and social distancing rules, we are probably still, for some time to come, going to have more of that awareness,” Tufts Medical Center epidemiologist Dr. Shira Doron said.
Health experts say you still need to get your flu shot if you haven’t already because every flu case that’s prevented is potentially a hospital bed saved for someone who really needs it.