Flu cases drop off as season ends, no clear timeline for COVID-19

Published: May. 21, 2020 at 5:46 PM CDT
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Health professionals say a bad flu season is nearing its end with a steep drop-off in cases, in part because people are staying at home.


reports more than 20,000 laboratory confirmed influenza-associated hospitalizations from October of 2019 to May of this year. But, as the flu season winds down, COVID-19 remains a big focus.

“Especially the school closure part, which might explain why influenza disappeared as well,” said Dr. Nasia Safdar, UW Health’s medical director for infection prevention.

UW Health reports across all locations there were 618 positive influenza tests in March. In April it dropped to three. So far in May there are none.

However, COVID-19’s season is not showing signs of stopping.

“It’s only been four months into the pandemic and already we have more than a million cases in the U.S. and several thousand deaths, and I think the impact of that is obviously much more far reaching than influenza,” Safdar said.

While the flu shares common symptoms with the coronavirus, there are key differences. Safdar said, while the death rate is considered low overall for the population, it is still five times that of influenza.

Dr. Amanda Jackson, an emergency medicine physician with SSM Health in Madison, said unlike the flu, there are no vaccines for COVID-19 and it has a large range of symptoms.

“It’s a much more lethal condition, and it is much more contagious,” she said.

While the flu has a season, which typically runs from October to as late as May, COVID-19’s timeline remains unclear.

“There have definitely been cases that have happened in warmer climates and sometimes we think viruses are worse in cooler climates, but there has not been any clear-cut evidence to the answer to that question,” Jackson said.

Jackson said she has also seen a decrease in influenza cases as the season ends. SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison reports there were 38 positive tests in March and none in April and May. UnityPoint Health - Meriter Hospital in Madison reported similar numbers, with 26 positive influenza tests in March and none in April and May.

UW Health officials tell NBC15 to date, they have had a total of 72 COVID-19 patients hospitalized, with a daily high of 21 at a time. SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison has had 46 hospitalized COVID-19 cases. UnityPoint Health - Meriter Hospital representatives reported they have had 57 patients with COVID admitted to the hospital since mid-March.