In the final debate between Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden and President Trump, Biden asserted that a “dark winter” was upon us. It’s unclear his version of a dark winter included both Influenza season and COVID-19 coinciding, or if he just intended it to assert that COVID would be singularly deadly. However, many health officials have continually warned that a COVID-19 outbreak during the Influenza season would devastate our country and the world.
But here’s the thing: none of that’s come to fruition. In some ways, the flu seemingly vanished in thin air.
The Southern Hemisphere is typically used as a gauge of how the West may fare during flu season. In April, Australia diagnosed a mere 14 cases of flu. In 2019, they already had 367 flu diagnoses on the books during the same period of time. For Australia, June is the peak flu month. As it stands today, the country hasn’t seen one flu case since July.
Between April and October of 2019, Chile had 7,000 flu cases. During this year’s same time period, that number stands at 12.
South Africa is similarly thin on flu cases at a time when the virus should be rampant. In the UK, the flu season has yet to take off.
So what’s happening?
Some believe that COVID cases are being mistakenly diagnosed as COVID-19. Given what we’ve seen from COVID-19 diagnosis processing, its not an all too difficult theory to buy into.
Dr Elisabetta Groppelli, virologist and lecturer in global health at St George’s, University of London, explains: ‘Flu and Covid-19 are caused by very distinct viruses, and this is clear to see under a microscope.
There’s no chance of mistaking one for the other – the fragment of viral genetic material from the coronavirus looks like a bit of spaghetti, while the flu genetic material we test for looks like eight pieces of penne pasta.’
Another theory suggests that COVID-19, as a virus, has pushed the flu out of the way. In other words, if you get COVID-19, your body has a more difficult time getting the flu.
Virus expert Professor James Stewart, at the University of Liverpool, says: ‘Immune system cells come in and help destroy the first infection, and if another virus comes along that same response will fight it off.’
Dr Groppelli adds: ‘Viruses are parasites. Once they enter a cell, they don’t want other viruses to compete with. So the virus already in the body will effectively kick the other parasite out.’
But were there enough COVID-19 cases back in March to block the flu?
One thing is certain, the “dark winter” resulting from the flu and COVID-19 meeting up in the town square seems to be falling short. Why that is remains a big unanswered question.
Author: Jim Satney
PrepForThat’s Editor and lead writer for political, survival, and weather categories.
Please visit the CDC website for the most up-to-date COVID-19 information.
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