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Health experts: Light flu season due to PPE and social distancing

Flu season is almost nonexistent in SLO and Santa Barbara Counties
Posted at 6:30 PM, Mar 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-06 01:12:11-05

Doctors warned Americans about the twin pandemic of the coronavirus and the flu this winter, but in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, only one positive flu case has been reported.

“The community did a good job with social distancing and masking, so we avoided the twin pandemic we were afraid of,” said Chris Ecker, Infection Preventionist at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in San Luis Obispo.

“I have been working in this town for 35 years and this is by far the lightest flu season we’ve ever had,” added Dr. Brian Roberts, owner and medical director at Med Stop Urgent Care.

Across the United States, there were 174,000 positive flu cases reported from 2019-2020. During the 2020–2021 flu season, there have been 1,500 reported cases.

At Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center, there have been zero positive flu reports.

Doctors chalk that up to the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and social distancing.

Dr. Roberts said, “All the things that we do to decrease the spread of COVID, all the social distancing and masking and all that, they work for any virus, including influenza virus.”

Since flu season began, there have been very few flu cases across the U.S., and some worry how that would affect herd immunity and the next version of the flu shot.

“As far as formulation, they can go on previous years. And also, America will use whoever is on the opposite season of us, so if Australia sees certain flu strains, we might think about incorporating that into our flu vaccine for that year,” Ecker said.

“Well, since we had such a very light year, there weren’t that many people infected, so the best guess is there won’t be a very big change or a lot of mutation in influenza this year. So my guess is the vaccine and the disease will be quite similar to last year, and likely to our advantage,” Dr. Roberts added.

Doctors highly encourage people to get the flu shot and COVID-19 vaccine.

But just because someone got the shot, that doesn’t mean they won’t catch a mild case or be an unknowing carrier for a virus.

Still, Dr. Roberts said, “They’re all extremely effective at keeping us alive.”