Seasonal flu reports hit record lows amid global social estrangement

BEIJING (Reuters) – Global rules of social distancing targeting the coronavirus have brought influenza infection rates to record levels, early figures show, indicating that the measures are having an unprecedented impact on other communicable diseases.

A sign promoting social distancing hangs in a post near the Crown and Anchor pub following an increase in cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) to pub visitors in Stone, Britain, July 30, 2020. REUTERS / Carl Recine

In China, where the first large-scale closure measures began, new reports of diseases including mumps, measles, and some sexually transmitted diseases have decreased significantly, although influenza cases have experienced a sharp decline.

Infections reported monthly by the county health ministry have decreased by more than 90% since the start of the shutdown, from an average of about 290,000 cases per month to 23,000.

Canada’s influenza surveillance system also reported “exceptionally low levels” of influenza in a recent report, as did other countries reporting weekly influenza surveillance statistics, including the United Kingdom and Australia.

In its most recent weekly report, the South Korean infectious disease portal reported an 83% decrease in cases from the same period last year.

“We have seen the lowest rates of other viral infection admissions for this time of year,” said Ben Marais, infectious disease expert at the University of Sydney and a clinician in the children’s unit at Westmead Hospital.

“Normally we have rooms full of children with wheezing chests at this time of year, in winter … but this year the rooms are essentially empty,” he said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there are some 3-5 million serious illnesses and up to 500,000 deaths annually related to seasonal influenza worldwide.

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While experts say declining influenza infections have reduced stress on health systems and reduced the number of deaths from influenza, there is also concern that the unprecedented decline in cases could have a negative impact. in immunity levels in the coming seasons.

“It may be that if we don’t have infections this season there will be more vulnerable people next season, that’s definitely something that we will have to carefully monitor,” Marais said. “It seems like this season happened to us.”

A lower number of some infectious diseases could also be related to lower notification rates.

The WHO said in a recent report that influenza surveillance figures should be “interpreted with caution” due to the limited ability to report in some countries during the pandemic.

The impact of the blockade on other diseases with a longer onset period, such as HIV and tuberculosis, may not be clear in the coming years.

In China, new cases of mumps have decreased by around 70% and measles by more than 90% since closing.

There was an average of around 7,500 cases of gonorrhea reported per month since closing, down from 12,100 per month in 2019.

Hepatitis, which last year infected about 1.2 million Chinese according to the reporting system, decreased by more than 20% in the same period.

Cate Cadell reports, additional reports from Sangmi Cha in South Korea; Editing by Michael Perry

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