Flu cases have plummeted during the pandemic, an unprecedented development that some experts believe is due to mask mandates, social distancing and other measures originally designed to contain Covid-19. According to an article published by STAT, an outlet that specializes in health-oriented news, the absence of flu has become so pronounced over the past year that two strains of the virus have seemingly vanished.
A subtype of the H3N2 virus, as well as a variant of the influenza B virus, have not been spotted in more than 12 months. It’s now possible that the two strains “may have disappeared – gone extinct,” STAT reported.
Trevor Bedford, a computational biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, told the outlet that there was a “decent chance” that H3N2 has disappeared, but conceded that the “world is a big place.”
As for the Influenza B strain, experts have been scouring databases looking for new reports of the virus, to no avail.
“Just because nobody saw it doesn’t mean it has disappeared completely, right? But it could,” said Florian Krammer, a flu expert at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in Manhattan.
Richard Webby, director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center for Studies on the Ecology of Influenza in Animals and Birds, was also cautious about declaring the virus strains extinct. Webby noted that while flu cases are down, only a fraction of flu viruses ever undergo genetic sequencing at a laboratory, meaning that “predictions about which flu viruses may have disappeared that are based on what’s in the databases risk being wrong.”
While some experts claim that the dearth of flu cases can be attributed to lockdowns, the effectiveness of such measures when it comes to stopping the spread of coronavirus is still a hotly contested issue. Many countries that imposed strict lockdowns have not fared any better than nations which took a less draconian approach to the health crisis. In March, it was reported that the Czech Republic had the world’s highest Covid-19 infection rate, despite months of lockdowns and mask mandates.
Since the start of the pandemic, numerous studies have challenged whether such measures have any discernible benefit. A paper recently published by scientists at the University of Munich concluded that Covid-19 restrictions imposed by the German government played no meaningful role in reining in the virus.
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