How Australia nearly ELIMINATED the flu during the Covid pandemic

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Influenza has almost been completely wiped out in Australia this year after much of the county went into Covid lockdown, which also stopped the usual seasonal spread of flu.

So far the nation has had just 484 cases of influenza to the end of August, mostly through international arrivals from India, with no deaths at all.

That compares to a staggering 313,000 cases of flu in Australia in 2019, which led to 953 deaths. 

In July 2019, more than 70,000 Australians were suffering in bed with flu. In 2020, that number was slashed to 190 and in 2021, it was just 52. 

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Even allowing for 2019 being an exceptionally bad year for the flu, with case numbers 27 times higher than the five year average, the turnaround is dramatic.

‘We’ve never seen figures this low ever before,’ Professor Ian Barr from WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza told the ABC.

‘This is the time we should be seeing not a few hundred [but] a few thousands of cases per state, with tens of thousands of cases overall throughout Australia.

‘The whole influenza world is topsy-turvy at the moment.’  

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The outbreak of the pandemic in 2020 also had a big impact on flu numbers last year with only 20,000 cases or so over the 12 months and just 37 deaths.

Gallery: 20 diseases you’ve probably never heard of (Espresso)

Isolation created by lockdowns and the widespread use of masks in the community to fight Covid combined to also stop traditional flu in its tracks too, say scientists.

Schools shutting their doors to pupils – which is a notorious breeding ground for flu infections to spread and be brought into homes – is also said to have a major impact.  

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Professor Barr added: ‘All those measures have contributed to the lack of influenza circulating over the last two years.’ 

University of Queensland virologist Dr Kirsty Short hoped the sparse number of cases will mean there will be less chance for the flu virus to mutate into a new variant which will be resistant to current flu vaccines.

But she warned of complacency and the danger of a major flu outbreak on top of the Covid pandemic.

‘It’s definitely something we all need to be watching,’ she said. 

‘Because the last thing we want is to have a bad flu season after going through everything with Covid.’ 

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