Measures like handwashing, masking and social distancing all but eliminated influenza in Canada in 2020, while rates of COVID-19 infection continued to go up and down. (iStock)

COVID-19 is not influenza, but teaches useful lessons: study

COVID-19 is definitely not influenza, but the way the pandemic was handled teaches some good lessons about how to fight the annual cases of flu. Researchers at Concordia University in Montreal and colleagues studied influenza figures from Canada, the U.S., Australia and Brazil in the year 2020. They compared them to infection rates of COVID-19.

They found that measures implemented to stem the spread of COVID-19 such as hand-washing, masking and social distancing all but eliminated the flu where usually, it kills tens of thousands of people every year. It is estimated that before the pandemic, between 2,000 and 8,000 Canadians died from the flu annually.

The COVID-19 virus is different from the flu virus and is more easily transmitted. (iStock)

‘Influenza was basically annulled’

“With the introduction of COVID-19 mitigation measures, we saw a steep decline in influenza cases in the northern hemisphere,” said Jovana Stojanovic, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Health, Kinesiology and Applied Physiology and the lead author of the paper. “Then we also observed that as COVID-19 cases went up and down in different ways, influenza was basically annulled across both the north and south hemispheres. That speaks volumes about how contagious COVID-19 is compared to influenza.”

The conclusion was that in future, public health measures could effectively be used to protect people at high risk from influenza. “We know the flu is particularly problematic for older individuals and those with respiratory conditions and so on,” said Simon Bacon, a professor of health, kinesiology and applied physiology, and co-author of the paper. “When we interact with people in those high-risk brackets, we should maintain some measures like handwashing, mask-wearing and social distancing. We’re used to them now, so maintaining them moving forward is probably a good idea.”

The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health.

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