In dramatic contrast to previous years, Downers Grove-based Advocate Aurora Health has reported zero positive flu cases across its 26 hospitals since September 2020, the health system announced Sunday.
In Illinois and on a national scale, the flu has virtually disappeared, with reports coming in at far lower levels than anything seen in decades. Out of a total 3,296 tests this season, Illinois reported a total of 25 positive tests as of March 6, according to the state’s Department of Public Health.
Physicians and infectious disease experts credit masking, social distancing and hand hygiene as likely the biggest factors in this year’s low flu numbers, Advocate Aurora Health said in a news release.
Other health experts have said the measures put in place to fend off the coronavirus were a big factor in preventing a “twindemic” of flu and COVID-19. A push to get more people vaccinated against the flu probably helped, too, as did fewer people traveling, they say.
The numbers are astonishing considering flu has long been the nation’s biggest infectious disease threat. In recent years, it has been blamed for 600,000 to 800,000 annual hospitalizations and 50,000 to 60,000 deaths.
Across the globe, flu activity has been at very low levels in China, Europe and elsewhere in the Northern Hemisphere. And that follows reports of little flu in South Africa, Australia and other countries during the Southern Hemisphere’s winter months of May through August.
More than 190 million flu vaccine doses were distributed this season, but the number of infections is so low that it’s difficult for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to do its annual calculation of how well the vaccine is working, according to Lynnette Brammer of the CDC. There’s simply not enough data, she said.