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Health leaders thankful flu in check during COVID-19 crisis

January 8, 2021 GMT

ST. LOUIS (AP) — As coronavirus cases surge in Missouri and across the U.S., public health officials are thankful that, so far, the flu has remained largely in check.

Health leaders worried about a possible “twindemic” as the severe flu season began in the late fall, something that would leave patients with the flu and COVID-19 competing for ventilators and hospital beds.

Missouri’s influenza report shows that by Dec. 26, 2020, 681 people had tested positive for influenza — the lowest total by that time of year in at least the last six flu seasons, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Friday. Typically, case numbers by the end of December have averaged just under 13,000.

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There has been one confirmed influenza death in the state since October. In comparison, 3,730 people have died from COVID-19 in Missouri since October.

“I think this year shows that the steps we’re taking to drop our COVID numbers are also preventing the flu,” said Dr. Hilary Babcock, an infectious disease specialist with the Washington University School of Medicine and BJC HealthCare. She cited measures such as social distancing and mask wearing.

The promising statistics in Missouri mirror a national trend, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC reports that flu levels in every state and territory have been “minimal” so far this season.

Dr. Sarah George, an associate professor of infectious diseases at St. Louis University Medical School, said the encouraging numbers are helping ease fears that a flood of flu patients would worsen the situation at already-overrun hospitals.

“It was a very real fear and something of a worst-case scenario,” she said. “We’re not out of the woods yet, but we’re hoping that if the current trend continues we will avoid that.”

Missouri’s health department on Friday reported 4,332 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 30 additional deaths. The state has now reported 416,758 cases of the virus, and 5,912 deaths since the pandemic began.