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While the coronavirus continues to plague the United States, the nation has also seen a stark decline in influenza cases.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, officials only know of one child in the U.S. who has died of the flu this season, whereas there have been hundreds of deaths in previous years.
During the 2019-2020 flu season, the CDC reported 195 children died of the flu. Experts say that while the influenza virus continues to circulate in March and April, fewer people are being infected because of existing immunity and precautions already in place due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"I think that that obliteration of the flu epidemic, which was seen globally, tells us that the way that influenza is transmitted from one person to another might really have been impacted by the use of masks, more than anything else," Flor Munoz, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics' infectious-diseases committee, told The Washington Post.
Munoz explained that wearing masks has proved helpful as they can limit the spread of the droplets that carry influenza. Dominant pathogens, like the coronavirus, can also crowd out other viruses by granting partial immunity.
These factors, plus the flu vaccine and existing immunity, have made it difficult for the flu to circulate.
As such, only 0.1 percent of flu tests are coming back positive, compared with 20 to 30 percent at this time in other years, said Lynnette Brammer, who leads the CDC's domestic influenza surveillance team.
While influenza numbers have stayed low this year, experts warn that the virus is expected to come back in full swing next fall and winter if COVID-19 restrictions let up.
However, if people continue to wear their masks and social distance, influenza deaths and infections could stay low next season.
"I think this has clearly shown that masking, distancing, hand-washing — all these things clearly work," added Aaron Milstone, an epidemiologist and professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University. "So I think the question will be, how much appetite do people have for all that to prevent influenza, instead of just covid."
Brammer also added that it's not too late for the flu to surge in the current season if coronavirus restrictions are lifted.
"We could have a maybe small, but late, flu season. Just really hard to say," she said.
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