The missing flu riddle: ‘Influenza has been renamed COVID,’ maverick epidemiologist says

Just the News:

As influenza levels continue cratering, some cite COVID measures — even as COVID rates have multiplied nearly sevenfold since the spring in spite of enhanced mitigation policies.

Rates of influenza have remained persistently low through late 2020 and into 2021, cratering from levels a year ago and raising the puzzling specter of sharply reduced influenza transmission rates even as positive tests for COVID-19 have shattered numerous records over the last several weeks. 

Where have all the flu cases gone?

Epidemiologist Knut Wittkowski thinks he can answer the riddle.

“Influenza has been renamed COVID in large part,” said the former head of biostatistics, epidemiology and research design at Rockefeller University.

“There may be quite a number of influenza cases included in the ‘presumed COVID’ category of people who have COVID symptoms (which Influenza symptoms can be mistaken for), but are not tested for SARS RNA,” Wittkowski told Just the News on Thursday. 

Those patients, he argued, “also may have some SARS RNA sitting in their nose while being infected with Influenza, in which case the influenza would be ‘confirmed’ to be COVID.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s weekly influenza surveillance tracker reports that the cumulative positive influenza test rate from late September into the week of Dec. 19 stands at 0.2% as measured by clinical labs. That’s compared to a cumulative 8.7% from a year before.

The weekly comparisons are even starker: This week one year ago, the positive clinical rate was 22%, where now it stands at 0.1%. 

Those low numbers continue trends observed earlier in the year in which flu rates have remained at near-zero levels. The trend is not limited to the U.S. Worldwide, health authorities have all reported sharply decreased influenza levels throughout what is normally peak flu season in the northern hemisphere. Rates in the southern hemisphere were also low this year. 

COVID mitigation measures cited even as COVID cases surge

Numerous experts have pointed to the ongoing COVID-19 mitigation measures — including mask-wearing, physical separation, and other anti-virus tactics — as an explanation for decreased flu levels. 

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