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Colorado saw a nearly 'nonexistent influenza season' this year thanks to COVID-19 safety measures

All the masks, the social distancing and the handwashing didn’t just keep us safe from COVID-19.

DENVER — Flu season in Colorado and around the country has been nearly nonexistent this year. Doctors say the same steps taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus have helped stop influenza from spreading.

"I remember having discussions about this concern that there was going to be the potential for a nasty flu season to collide with the COVID-19 pandemic," said Dr. Suchitra Rao, an associate professor of pediatrics in infectious diseases with Children’s Hospital Colorado. "Really what we’ve seen so far this season is really a nonexistent influenza season."

Rao, an infectious disease specialist, said flu season usually begins in December and lasts 12 to 16 weeks. But this year, it never really came.

All the masks, social distancing and handwashing didn’t just help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, it also stopped the flu.

"There’s only been, say, 30 hospitalizations so far in the state of Colorado with the flu. Normally this time last year we would have seen hundreds into the thousands of hospitalizations," Rao said. "It’s really been just a stark difference compared to what we traditionally have been observing."

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Rao said Children’s Hospital Colorado has seen a 30% increase in people getting flu shots this year. With schools staying remote or implementing measures to stop the spread of viruses, kids have also played a major role in helping stop the spread of influenza.

"We do know that young children and schools are pretty major players when we talk about the transmission of flu in the community. So if we minimize that transmission, then that’s going to minimize that risk to the rest of the community," Rao said. "The infection spreads amongst the kids and then can get to spreading amongst the adults as well."

While there are fears that next year’s flu season could be worse because this year was so mild, Rao cautions that may not come to fruition. She said predicting how bad a flu season will be is extremely difficult.

"The one thing that is really predictable about the flu season is just how unpredictable it is," Rao said. 

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