Essentia, St. Luke's doctors weigh in on low flu hospitalizations

Ryan Juntti
Updated: January 18, 2021 10:10 PM
Created: January 18, 2021 10:07 PM

The COVID-19 pandemic has been incredibly hard on all of us, and good news has been hard to come by.

We are also in flu season, but hospitalizations have decreased dramatically, and some say the precautions taken during the pandemic are likely the reason.

The Minnesota Department of Health says so far this year there have only been 22 people hospitalized from the flu compared to over 4,000 last year.

Essentia Health Infectious Disease Physician Dr. Rajesh Prabhu, and St. Luke's Infectious Disease Physician Dr. Andrew Thompson have differing opinions on whether masking and social distancing are leading to the low numbers.

"I'm not too sure it would explain such the dramatic decrease in influenza because there are certainly people that aren't masking, and it's not like we're seeing pockets of influenza in certain populations," said Prabhu.

"It just seems like it's very likely that a respiratory illness would be controlled by fairly universal masking in the community, avoiding spending time indoors with others," said Thompson.

The two doctors agree that there are years when the flu isn't as rampant. They say that, combined with more people potentially getting vaccinated could also be contributing to the decrease in flu activity.

"Certainly, in past years there are certain years that we have a lot of influenza, and then there's other years that we have less amounts, so maybe this is a coincidence season that this was going to be a less amount year," said Prabhu.

"A large part of it, I would say is due to our good behavior, but there are very mild flu years, and sometimes there are flu years where influenza comes later in the year," said Thompson.      

Thompson also points out how the low flu numbers highlight the effectiveness of the precautions being taken to slow the spread of COVID-19.

"Presuming that our mild flu year is due to all of these mitigation strategies that we're using, one can imagine if we weren't doing this just how bad COVID would be," said Thompson. "So if we weren't doing what we're doing, I think we'd be facing an incredible disaster right now," he added.

When distinguishing between COVID-19 and the flu, the main thing to look out for is the loss of taste and smell, but both illnesses can also include a fever, cough, and shortness of breath.


Ryan Juntti

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