Report claiming flu ‘virtually disappeared’ amid covid restrictions sparks slew of theories and debate

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The apparent “disappearance” of the otherwise ubiquitous flu has “experts” and everyday Americans alike raising questions to try to solve this “mystery.”

In a startling but late report published Thursday, the Associated Press announced that the flu “has virtually disappeared from the U.S., with reports coming in at far lower levels than anything seen in decades.”

The report was late in the sense that discussions about the flu’s disappearance preceded it by days, weeks and — sometimes — months, with non-experts speculating over it as early as last summer.

As for the experts, they believe the most likely reason for this discrepancy is the spate of coronavirus restrictions and recommendations — think mask mandates, lockdowns, virtual schooling, social distancing — that were implemented amid the ongoing pandemic.

But this theory seems to suffer from one fatal flaw: If flu deaths are down because of coronavirus restrictions and recommendations, why are coronavirus deaths themselves still so high?

Another possible reason, the experts claim, is that the “coronavirus has essentially muscled aside flu and other bugs that are more common in the fall and winter,” the Associated Press noted.

“Scientists don’t fully understand the mechanism behind that, but it would be consistent with patterns seen when certain flu strains predominate over others, said Dr. Arnold Monto, a flu expert at the University of Michigan,” according to the AP.

Everyday Americans have plenty of their own theories as well. Here’s one prominent one via cartoonist and commentator Scott Adams:

Note the timestamp: Feb. 21st, which was four days before the AP’s report.

Adams’ theory appears to be that the statistics behind flu deaths were always cooked. To be clear, there’s no evidence to substantiate this theory.

The CDC “estimates that influenza has resulted in between 9 million – 45 million illnesses, between 140,000 – 810,000 hospitalizations and between 12,000 – 61,000 deaths annually since 2010.”

Except for this past year or so, of course, and not just in the United States.

“Across the globe, flu activity has been at very low levels in China, Europe and elsewhere in the Northern Hemisphere. And that follows reports of little flu in South Africa, Australia and other countries during the Southern Hemisphere’s winter months of May through August,” according to the AP.

Earlier this week, word emerged that health authorities in England have thus far not recorded a single case — not even one — of the flu.

“Not a single case of influenza has been detected by public health officials in England for the past seven weeks, with infection rates at historic lows amid the ongoing Covid-19 restrictions,” The Independent reported.

This seemingly impossible feat was also attributed to “social restrictions brought in to curb transmission of coronavirus, combined with increased uptake of the flu vaccine.”

Another theory by everyday folks — one that’s also unsubstantiated, to be very clear — is that, because of the similarities in symptoms between the flu and the coronavirus, most flu cases have been diagnosed as the coronavirus, thus distorting the numbers.

This is a theory that was peddled by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the nephew of former President John F. Kennedy, last year on social media. He based his claim on the belief that the CDC had created a new mortality category, PIC, to categorize pneumonia, influenza and the coronavirus together.

At the time, FactCheck.org, which is admittedly a partisan left-wing fact-checker (see the video below), rated the claim false.

“[N]owhere on the CDC or NCHS sites does it say that CDC is counting all PIC deaths as COVID-19 deaths. This is not true. Only the COVID-19 deaths are counted as COVID-19 deaths,” CDC official Robert Anderson told FactCheck.org at the time.

The theory still persists months later because no definitive answer has yet been supplied to explain away the mystery of disappearing flu cases.

Vivek Saxena

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