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Where Has Influenza Gone?

By 

René F. Najera, DrPH

January 12, 2021

If you're an infectious disease geek -- and who isn't these days? -- you may have noticed that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have not sent out any alerts over influenza this influenza season. (In the United States, influenza season is from October to May.) In fact, if you look at , it seems that influenza has all but disappeared. You can even and see that influenza is active at very low levels across all age groups. So where has influenza gone?

Influenza has not really gone anywhere. It is still present in the community. What is happening is that we as a country -- and at the direction of public health officials -- have taken , a respiratory virus that is transmissible in similar ways to influenza. .

It's not just influenza, however. The Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is another respiratory virus that has . Unlike coronavirus, RSV is a respiratory infection that tends to be more severe in infants and cause more of in healthy adults. There is no current vaccine against RSV, but there are , especially now with mRNA technology becoming more available and understood.

So why not just wear masks in the winter to prevent the ? Well, that has always been an option. . It's not as if covering coughs and sneezes (which spread diseases) is a novel idea that we in the West came up with just last year. ?

Perhaps the "new normal" that is expected after the pandemic will bring with it a normalization in the United States of wearing cloth face masks when local epidemics of respiratory diseases are declared. Perhaps the mRNA vaccine technologies are used for a universal influenza vaccine. And perhaps, just perhaps, the political divisions and will subside enough to allow public health and medical experts to do their work and continue to save lives.

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