Nursing & Healthcare News

Mildest Flu Season on Record

Masks and social distancing pay off

If you’re tired of masks and social distancing, you can take heart in knowing that they’ve saved lives, and not just from COVID-19. Those precautions also gave us the mildest flu season ever recorded in the U.S.

Influenza Hospitalizations Hit New Low

Some of the nurses who participated in Working Nurse’s 2020 Men in Nursing feature last fall expressed hopes that the emphasis the pandemic has placed on hand hygiene, social distancing and masking would pay off during flu season. Those nurses got their wish: CDC surveillance data reveals that the 2020–21 flu season was unusually mild.

By this time last year, FluServ-NET, the CDC’s Influenza Hospital Surveillance Network, had recorded more than 19,200 laboratory-confirmed influenza hospitalizations across 14 U.S. states (including California). During the 2020–21 flu season, the network recorded fewer than 250 influenza hospitalizations.

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Previously, the mildest flu season FluServ-NET had tracked was 2011–12. The 2020–21 season’s cumulative influenza hospitalization rate (0.8 hospitalizations per 100,000 population) was only one-tenth the already low 2011–12 rate!

Influenza-related outpatient visits were also much lower than the previous season, although the CDC warns that the pandemic makes direct comparisons difficult. Even more than in previous years, not everyone who had the flu saw a doctor for it, and some flu-related visits turned out to be COVID-19.

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Fewer Influenza Deaths

The past flu season also saw dramatically reduced influenza mortality. Between October 2020 and the end of April 2021, the CDC recorded just 674 influenza deaths nationwide, including only one influenza-associated pediatric death.

During the same period in 2019–20, there were more than 9,100 influenza-associated deaths, including at least 198 pediatric deaths.

These figures provide further evidence of the value of masks and other simple health precautions in preventing the spread of respiratory infections.

Aaron Severson is a freelance writer, editor, and writing consultant as well as the associate editor of Working Nurse. 

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