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Flu season 2020: Are we avoiding a “twindemic”?

Mild flu activity and the coronavirus vaccine have pushed the deadline for employee flu immunization — which carries a PEAK incentive — to March 31.

Seasonal flu activity and hospitalizations are the lowest they’ve been in years, according to recent figures from the Oregon Health Authority. Although influenza cases typically peak in winter, the percentage of positive tests in Oregon fell to below 0.1% in December. Emergency hospitalizations for flu have also fallen dramatically from a year ago.

Earlier this year, public health officials and Asante leaders were concerned about the potential for a devastating “twindemic” of COVID and flu cases, which would further overwhelm hospitals.

“The low number of cases of influenza across the country this year provides even more evidence that actions such as masking, following physical distancing guidelines and vaccination work,” said Kirsten Schutte, MD, medical director of Asante Infection Prevention and Infectious Disease. “Together, these measures reduce the transmission of respiratory viruses.”

The mild activity has delayed, and may even prevent, the official declaration of flu season. Asante’s employee immunization rate is currently just over 80%. Another 587 employees need to receive the flu vaccine for Asante to meet its 90% immunization goal — and earn a 2021 PEAK incentive. With the arrival of the coronavirus vaccine, Asante has extended the flu immunization deadline to March 31.

Dr. Schutte warns, however, that this is no time to become complacent.

“Influenza is not as easily spread as the virus that causes COVID-19,” she said. “We need to keep these efforts up until the COVID-19 vaccination is more widely available.”

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