JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - As of March, the Mississippi State Department of Health has yet to record a single lab-reported flu case this year.
And a UMMC professor says the steps people in the Magnolia state have taken to prevent COVID-19 could be playing a huge factor in that.
“Usually, the flu season peaks in Mississippi in January and February,” said Dr. Bhagyashri Navalkele, assistant professor of medicine and medical director of infection prevention and control at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. “We have not seen that large number of cases, compared to the previous two seasons.”
Mississippi is one of many states that have reported little to no flu activity and Navalkele says social-distancing, mask-wearing, and washing hands helped foil the flu.
“Yes, absolutely, all of that contributed,” Navalkele said. “People were vaccinated for the flu, as they are every season, and there were upticks in the vaccination rates. But the precautionary measures were not common in previous years.”
UMMC says between Sept. 27, 2020, and Feb. 20, 2021, the number of positive influenza tests in the U.S. reported to the CDC was 1,499 – out of 659,131 results, or 0.2 percent.
That’s compared to the 2019-2020 season where 13 percent or 64,000 people were positive for the flu, out of more than 493,000 tests.
Also last flu season, the CDC calculated that in the United States the virus sickened 38 million people, which is about the population of Poland and 128 times the population of Mississippi.
Pediatric flu deaths are reportable, though, and for this flu season, so far, one pediatric death has been reported in this country, but not in Mississippi. Usually, doctors say there are around 150 to 200 pediatric deaths.
UMMC says school closings and the safeguards applied once schools re-opened, may have slowed to spread of the flu in schools.
“The lockdown of schools and early childhood education centers has contributed,” said Dr. April Palmer, professor of pediatrics and chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at UMMC. “Lockdowns of businesses, too, have decreased crowding.”
However, UMMC says you should be careful comparing COVID-19 with the flu since we’ve never seen the virus before, which is why the entire population was susceptible to it.
“The flu has been with us many years; people have been getting vaccinated against it. But, for COVID, we still have a large population that is not immune to it. Many people have not been vaccinated against it. And the variant that’s coming could force up the numbers,” Navalkele added.
Also, doctors say many people have had the flu, so there has been some natural immunity to it for a long time.
No matter what we do, or don’t do, Navalkele has an urgent request, or two: “For anyone who hasn’t received their flu shot, please get one, especially those in a high-risk group.
“Also, you should get the COVID vaccine.”