Remember the flu?

Right about now, the headlines would be all influenza. Health officials would be warning holiday shoppers to stay home if they felt sick. This time last year, about 1,000 Texans had died since September either from pneumonia or the flu combined. Now people hear about hundreds of deaths per week from this new foe, the coronavirus.

No, the coronavirus did not turn out to be less deadly than the flu, like so many pandemic-naysayers predicted. But it turns out the flu might be less active because of the coronavirus.

In Collin County, and across the U.S., positive cases of the flu are down, way down. North Texas health officials say there is plenty of evidence to lead them to believe that the precautions people are taking to combat the spread of COVID-19 are also combating the spread of the flu.

The latest data Collin County Health Care Services show only 27 people here have tested positive for the flu. In 2019, for that same week, the week ending Dec. 12, there were well over 200 positive cases in the county. No deaths have been reported so far this year.

Shutterstock. Com

Times They Are A-Changin’

At this point last year Texas Department of State Health Services reported more than 7,200 positive flu cases statewide. This year, there are 175 cases so far.

Christmas time has always been the flu season’s peak for the past few years, says Juan Rodriguez, Denton County’s chief epidemiologist. “But right now, it’s very minimal.” 

In Denton County, for the most recent week of testing, he says there were seven positive cases, compared to the nearly 168 positive cases in 2019.

The coronavirus is far more deadly than the flu. More than 300,000 Americans died from COVID-19 in less than a year. Between 24,000 and 62,000 Americans died from the flu last season, according to the CDC. Both respiratory illnesses spread similarly — through the air — which means the efforts most are taking to prevent the spread of COVID-19 may be working to stop the flu.

“It’s hard to really know what the factors are, but it appears to be, everything people are doing as precautions for [COVID-19] are likely working for the flu as well,” Rodriguez says.

Collin County health officials were not available for comment. But CCHCS spokesman Darrell Willis offered a quote from a CDC report:

“There is evidence to support the use of face masks by infected persons to reduce transmission of viral respiratory illnesses to others and growing evidence to support their use (in the health care setting, in households, and in the community) to protect the healthy wearer from acquiring infection.”

It seems to be working. Health officials have not reported any major delays in administering people the flu shot, despite reduced capacity at some clinics.

“You don’t have a waiting room full of people waiting for a flu shot,” Rodriguez says.

Dalton LaFerney

Dalton LaFerney is a freelance journalist based in the Dallas area. His work has appeared in the Dallas Morning News, Dallas Observer, Denton Record-Chronicle, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and the Las Vegas...