Low Flu cases during Covid-19 pandemic

...largely driven by mask-wearing.

Precautionary measures taken to fight the Covid-19 pandemic such as wearing face masks and physical distancing contributed to a decline of flu cases that were seen in the country last year, medical experts have said.

This means wearing of facial masks in the wintertime has to be continued to avoid seeing a rise in flu cases given the low temperatures heavily anticipated this year.

In an interview with CITE, Lead Epidemiology Surveillance Operations Covid-19 Response and Acting Director Epidemiology and Disease Control in the Ministry of Health and Child Care, Dr Isaac Phiri, said there was a noticeable sharp drop in flu cases last year, which was probably largely driven by mask-wearing and distancing.

These are called influenza like illnesses, where people start sneezing, having nose secreting because of the cold and every year during winter there’s an increase in flu like illnesses. But you will be surprised that in the past year because we have been wearing these masks our flu went on unnoticed,” he said.

“Have you realised there are low figures of influenza, flu like illnesses, so we don’t expect much influenza like illness to be on the increase this year.”

Dr Phiri highlighted that however, the ministry of health’s surveillance system were working hard to make sure they pick on flu increases in case it turns out to be Covid-19 cases.

“If at all there are increases, the increases may be of Covid-19 cases where there may be an outbreak somewhere. People who have Covid-19 may infect others, so we will do testing to see an increase. But to say the flu will increase, probably (it may) or probably not. The situation may turnout to be like what happened last year because people have been taking precautionary measures. These measures are against Covid but are also working, which is good,” said the epidemiologist.

He urged people to continue sanitising hands, wearing face masks, social distancing and reporting if they experienced signs of having flu-like illnesses.

“So our teams can go on the ground and test them,” Dr Phiri said.

Meanwhile Dr Phiri said the Covid-19 vaccine was specifically meant for the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) virus, which is Covid-19 and not for flu.

No, these are different virus. Usually the flu that we have are Adenoviruses, which are common viruses that cause a range of illnesses. These are mild flu but the measures we are putting out can prevent that. This vaccine is specifically for Covid- 19 but the precautionary measures are working for any other flu,” he said.

“There are vaccines for those flues but they don’t work against Covid-19. In Europe, people always vaccinate for flu that happens seasonally but that has not helped for Covid-19. These Covid-19 vaccines are specifically for Covid-19.”

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