One Coronavirus Silver Lining: Fewer Colds and Flu Cases

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It’s really hard to find any silver lining in the coronavirus outbreak. But a possible one: the self-quarantining, social distancing and personal hygiene measures are likely to mean far fewer cases of the cold and flu.
 
The Centers for Disease Control estimated that between October 1, 2019, and March 7 of this year there would be: 

  • 36 million to 51 million cases of the flu;
  • 17 million to 24 million flu-related medical visits; 
  • 370,000 to 670,000 flu-related hospitalizations; and 
  • 22,000 to 55,000 flu deaths.

These estimates are typically larger than the reported cases, and the CDC explains why.
 
“Because influenza surveillance does not capture all cases of flu that occur in the U.S., CDC provides these estimated ranges to better reflect the larger burden of influenza. … CDC does not know the exact number of people who have been sick and affected by influenza because influenza is not a reportable disease in most areas of the U.S.”
 
While the U.S. flu season peaks in the winter or early spring months, including March, February is by far the leading peak month, “but activity can last as late as May,” according to the CDC.
 
Though the seasonal flu and the coronavirus have similarities—they are both infectious respiratory illnesses—they are not the same. Even so it appears the coronavirus is spread the same way as colds and the flu. So the dramatic increase in self-quarantining, social distancing and personal hygiene measures will almost certainly reduce the incidence of colds and flu.
 
One of the primary purposes for the government-imposed school closures, limits on social gatherings and even closing businesses such as restaurants is so the health care system won’t be overwhelmed by coronavirus cases.
 
Even though we are nearing the end of a normal flu season, it’s likely there will be far fewer cases than normal, freeing up health care resources should the incidence of coronavirus cases spike.
 
Not a huge silver lining side to this very disruptive pandemic, but it’s something.

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