Not a single case of the flu has been detected in England so far in 2021 according to public health officials, despite thousands of swabs being tested each week.
A report from the Independent states that despite analyzing some 685,243 samples since the first week of January, Public Health England has not found a single case of influenza. The week leading up to the New Year returned one positive result.
“The decrease in flu cases this year is likely due to changes in our behaviour, such as social distancing, face coverings and handwashing, as well as the reduction in international travel,” Public Health England's head of flu Dr. Vanessa Saliba told the Independent.
Saliba also pointed towards the United Kingdom's flu vaccine programme as being highly successful, with record numbers of individuals over the age of 65 taking the jab, as well as two- and three-year olds and healthcare workers.
Further data pointed toward a dip well below the five-year average for influenza that would normally be seen during this time of the year.
Christina Pagel, a professor of operational research at University College London, told the Independent that it could lead to a new approach when dealing with outbreaks of the flu in the future.
“If we wanted to, we’ve shown we can reduce flu deaths to pretty much zero. I don’t think that the damage we have done through lockdown is anything that anyone would support to prevent flu,” Pagel said, “but it does bring into question the idea of whether there is anything that we can do.”
“I think it’s an unintended consequence of COVID that we’ve realized flu isn’t this unavoidable threat that we thought it was,” the professor added.
A virologist working for the University of Leeds, Dr. Stephen Griffin, wondered if the lack of outbreak of influenza would lead to a surge later in the year after COVID-19 has been largely contained.
“Hopefully some of the good habits in relation to social distancing and hygiene might help again in the future as well,” Dr. Griffin said.
“If there’s very little [flu] circulating it’s harder to predict which strains might be dominant and so need to be incorporated into the vaccine,” the doctor added.