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'We're seeing almost no flu' | Why it's such a slow flu season in the Carolinas

All fall long, there was talk of a so-called “twin-demic.” COVID-19 and the flu were supposed to be a one-two punch, potentially crippling our hospital systems.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As peak flu season approaches, activity has dropped to the lowest level in years.

All fall long, there was talk of a so-called “twin-demic.” COVID-19 and the flu were supposed to be a one-two punch, potentially crippling our hospital systems.

Instead, hospitals across the Carolinas continue to report little to no flu activity.

Two of the top infectious disease specialists in the Carolinas attributed the decrease to measures being taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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“We’re seeing almost no flu,” said Dr. David Priest, infectious disease specialist at Novant Health with more than two decades of experience. “We’ve had a handful of outpatient flu cases and very few hospitalizations related to flu.”

A similar report across the state line at Piedmont Medical Center in Rock Hill, where doctors say there has been a “drastic” drop in cases.

“The number of flu cases is incredibly rare these days,” said Dr. Arash Poursina, an infectious disease specialist who treats between 500 and 800 patients every month. He described the flu as “a novelty.”

According to the CDC, South Carolina’s flu activity is considered low; North Carolina has minimal activity.

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Note: CDC is tracking the COVID-19 pandemic in a weekly publication called COVIDView. All data are preliminary and may change as more reports are received. A description of the CDC influenza surveillance system, including methodology and detailed descriptions of each data component is available on the surveillance methods page.

Data from the North Carolina Health and Human Services shows four flu deaths from the period of September 2020 through Jan. 16.  At the same point the previous year, there were 37 deaths. 

DHHS data also reveal the number of people presenting at the hospital with flu-like symptoms is significantly lower than in previous years.

Priest attributed the drop in flu cases to the actions people are taking to stop the spread of COVID-19.

“Just some masking, some hand washing, some social distancing is really enough to cut down on influenza,” he said.

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While the flu is highly contagious, COVID-19 spreads much easier, Poursina pointed out.

“COVID-19 is at least 10 times if not more contagious than the flu,” Poursina said.

But that does not mean that we won’t have a flu season, he cautioned.

The peak for the Carolinas extends through February. Data from previous years show most of the deaths happen in February.

Poursina stressed there is still a need to get a flu shot.

“[The flu] is still highly, highly contagious,” he said. “Once you start seeing a few cases, especially back to back, then you know it’s going to take off.”