Where’d the flu go?

Flu hospitalizations currently low during COVID-19 pandemic

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Photo by Vicky Thao

“Flu cases are down this year,” Michelle Willcut, a registered nurse from HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital said. “I suspect it’s due to all of the precautions people are taking to avoid COVID.”

Michelle Willcutt, a registered nurse from HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital, said flu cases are down this year, and she suspects it’s due to all of the precautions people are taking from COVID-19. 

Chris Chhum, a first year pre-nursing-student at UW-Eau Claire, said she believes there isn’t a significant difference between the number of COVID-19 and flu cases throughout the pandemic.

“I don’t think the numbers of the flu are any lower, I just think people aren’t as focused on the flu because of COVID,” Chhum said.

Chhum said she has been led to believe that other contagious illnesses have not dissipated, but have instead been masked by the pandemic and its seemingly similar symptoms. 

“I’m not sure if the flu cases are any higher this year, I’m just staying safe from the pandemic,” Abby Lenz, a first-year nursing student, said. “Evidently, they do have similar symptoms.” 

Lenz said it is difficult to distinguish between COVID-19 and the flu, due to their similar symptoms. These symptoms range from fevers to coughs, headaches and muscle aches.

Both the flu and COVID-19 are contagious respiratory illnesses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some similarities of the flu and COVID-19 include: fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, sore throat, runny nose, muscle aches and vomiting/diarrhea.

The CDC also said COVID-19 spreads easier than the flu and causes serious illness in people.

According to a CDC report, the percentage of U.S. respiratory specimens submitted for influenza tests that tested positive decreased from less than 20% to 2.3% and have remained at historically low inter-seasonal levels (0.2% versus 1-2%). 

Regarding the number of flu cases dropping, Willcutt said the flu cases are down this year at HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital. She said she suspects it’s due to all of the precautions people are taking to avoid COVID-19. 

Willcutt also said there are similarities between COVID-19 and the flu, but raised the point of the differences between the two, which involve a person’s ability to taste and smell. She also said the time of exposure is different, and “people tend to get sick sooner with the flu.”

According to the LiveStories Catalog, the national scale of influenza deaths gradually decreased between 1999 and 2017. The severity of the flu varies depending on the person, the flu season and the flu virus active that year. The LiveStories Catalog said the most effective way for Eau Claire residents to avoid the flu is to get vaccinated before flu season every year. 

If you are looking to find flu vaccinations, check in with your nearest local pharmacies, drug stores and clinics. To find a location near you, visit Fluzone

Flu vaccinations are also available at Prevea Health locations across the Chippewa Valley region. Appointments can be scheduled by calling (888) 277-3832 and through the MyPrevea patient portal.

The Eau Claire County COVID-19 Information Hub has a page about vaccination information and updates. As of Feb. 1, certain groups of people in Eau Claire county, including frontline workers and those over the age of 65, are the first priority for vaccines.

To find more information regarding the COVID-19 vaccine and to answer other similar questions, visit this website

Thao can be reached at [email protected]