No, the flu has not “disappeared” since last winter

SANTE

In reality, the toll of the flu epidemic during the winter of 2019/2020 amounts to 3,680 deaths according to official estimates, while this year the virus could circulate in a very limited way, specialists explain to AFP .

What we check

The figure of 73 deaths “caused by the flu” during last winter circulates widely on Twitter, where it feeds suspicions, some Internet users affirming that deaths from the flu have been recorded in the category “Covid-19” in order to swell numbers.

In reality, the figure of 73 deaths is wrong and the “disappearance” of the flu this year, a premature assertion.

What we know

A very close figure (72 deaths) appears in a weekly bulletin on seasonal influenza published by Public Health France on March 4, 2020, but this corresponds only to the number of deaths among patients “admitted to intensive care”, and not to the number of deaths. all deaths caused by influenza.

In fact, according to the results of the 2019-2020 influenza season published in October by Public Health France, “the flu would have caused 3,680 deaths of all ages”.

This is an estimate because the balance sheet of the flu epidemic is difficult to quantify, the health authorities rather relying on the excess mortality that can be attributed to it.

“There are relatively few death certificates that mention influenza as the main cause of death,” explains Pascal Crépey, epidemiologist at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Santé Publique (EHESP).

However, this assessment remains well below the average of around 10,000 deaths per year over the period 2010-2019.

The seasonal flu epidemic of last winter “has been one of the shortest epidemics since 2010”, and its surveillance was stopped earlier due to Covid-19, recalls Public Health France in its October report.

“The flu epidemic also stopped under the effect of the confinement of March, when it was already in its final phase”, judges epidemiologist Pascal Crépey.

What we can conclude for this year

“The measures that we apply to control the Covid-19 epidemic”, such as wearing a mask, physical distancing and hand washing, “will have an impact on the circulation of respiratory viruses in general”, says the epidemiologist.

Only seven cases of influenza have been “detected in hospitals” since the end of September, according to Public Health France, stressing in the weekly bulletin of December 9, that there is “no active circulation of influenza viruses identified by the networks dedicated monitoring ”.

However, the flu epidemic could arrive later, especially if the measures to control the coronavirus were to relax.

Until then, the reduction in global air traffic reduces the risk of influenza being imported into France from other countries, which happened in other years.

At the same time, calls for influenza vaccination could help reduce the incidence of the virus.

“When you have a virus that is very well established from an epidemic point of view, such as Sars-Cov-2, there is no room for a second virus to co-circulate at the same time in such a way too abundant ”, explained on December 9 on France 2 Bruno Lina, professor of virology and member of the scientific council.

If it is wrong to say that “the flu has totally disappeared by magic”, all these factors mean that, according to Pascal Crépey, “the probability that we will not have an influenza epidemic this year is far from be negligible ”.

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