How We Conquered Influenza After a Century of Failure

How We Conquered Influenza After a Century of Failure

For centuries humanity has been plagued by influenza. In the United States, according to the CDC an average of 60,000 people are estimated to die each year from influenza. Further its estimated that more than 50 million people experience symptoms and contribute to as many as 740,000 hospitalizations.

The first flu vaccines for civilian use in the US came online in the late 1940’s. Decade after decade since, flu vaccines have been available every year with varying degrees of effectiveness with some years being as little as 10% effective. 

Using today’s metric of explosion of cases, and tens of thousands dead — every single year we experience a flu epidemic globally. This despite the fact that we have plenty of vaccines, and they’re given for free upon demand in most countries yet not once in modern history have our efforts been able to make a discernible dent in the yearly epidemic.

Enter 2020

For the first time in human history we’re on track to eradicate the flu and apparently the vaccine had nothing to do with it.

While 2020 started the year with above average cases things quickly changed as COVID-19 approached. During week 11 (week ending March 14th) there were 11,767 clinically confirmed cases of influenza according to the CDC. But by early April, during week 14 the cases had collapsed by 97.3% to just 318. Contrasted against week 14 in 2019 which had 5471 cases, and 2018 which had 3314 cases shows an unprecedented collapse in influenza.

The power of the flu has never returned since, with every week being far below the previous years numbers.

Zooming in to weeks 20-39 the disparity becomes apparent. On average, weekly cases are 96% lower than in 2019. Even when we compare the numbers to 2018 which had lower cases than 2019, 2020 is still on average 86% lower than 2018.

Which begs the obvious question, have we finally conquered the flu? Or have we just rebranded it?

References:

CDC Weekly Flu Statistics – https://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/pastreports.htm

 

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