Garfield County Public Health: COVID-19 precautions impact the local flu season

State report: masks, social distancing and increased hand washing are impacting trends

GARFIELD COUNTY, CO – The spread of influenza (flu) in the state of Colorado is currently sporadic. A recent Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) report notes that although the flu season can be generally unpredictable, it is thought that the public health measures to address the spread of COVID-19, such as mask wearing, social distancing and increased hand washing may impact trends in seasonal flu transmission.

As COVID-19 numbers remain high, Grand River Health and Valley View Hospital have had a quiet flu season and do not anticipate a sharp increase in cases.

In the United States, flu season occurs in the fall and winter. Influenza viruses that cause the flu circulate year-round. However, most of the time flu activity peaks between December and February, but can last as late as May. The flu vaccine is highly recommended for all age groups.

COVID-19 prevention measures saving kids’ lives
Prevention measures are lowering overall flu cases, leading to less pediatric deaths from flu. The CDC reports influenza-associated pediatric deaths for current and past flu seasons. Nation-wide, there were 195 pediatric flu deaths last season. So far this season, there has only been one in the United States and zero reported in Colorado.

“This is the year to do everything we can to prevent the flu. I tell my patients, ‘you don’t want to take a space from someone else in the emergency room.’ Even if one person in your household gets sick with the flu, or even something as minor as cold, it means that everyone has to stay home and get tested for COVID-19. So, take this one additional precaution. Get your flu shots and prevent a major hassle for everyone in your home,” said Dr. Colby Quintenz, pediatrician with Grand River Health.

Flu hospitalizations in Garfield County
There have been no flu-associated hospitalizations in Garfield County during this current 2020-2021 season. By comparison, the 2019-2020 season had 29, the 2018-2019 season 35, and the 17-18 season 46.

Flu deaths as compared to COVID-19 deaths
In the United States, an average of 35,000 people die from the flu each year. In less than one year, the COVID-19 virus has claimed more than 374,000 lives.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) graphic

COVID-19 and flu
COVID-19 is caused by an infection with a new coronavirus (called SARS-CoV-2) and flu is caused by infection with influenza viruses. COVID-19 seems to spread more easily than flu and causes more serious illnesses in some people.

With both flu and COVID-19, people over 65 bear the greatest burden of severe illness and death. Approximately 90% of flu-related deaths and 50-70% of flu-related hospitalizations occur among people in this age group.

A comparison of hospitalizations and deaths by age due to COVID-19 shows that adults 65 to 74 are being hospitalized at five times the rate of the 18- to 29-year-old demographic and dying at 90 times the rate of the younger group. These death rates increase to 220 times for adults age 75 to 84, and 630 times for those over 85, when compared to 18- to 29-year-olds.

Because of their increased risk, older adults are a priority group for receiving both flu and COVID-19 vaccination.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention graphic

“We as physicians don’t recommend things that we wouldn’t do for our own families,” added Dr. Quintenz. “Every year, I take flu vaccine home and give it to my own children. Getting vaccines is the choice that medical professionals make for their own families. As a society we are trying to do everything we can for our neighbors and friends. One of the things we can do for them is to get the flu vaccine and, when it is time, our COVID-19 shots.”

Garfield County Public Health: COVID-19 precautions impact the local flu season