As coronavirus case reports rise, health officials say virus restrictions have eliminated the flu
By Jessica Berget, Assistant Editor
Because of the lowered flu case rate, many health officials are considering keeping these health orders in place to curb influenza in the future.
The months of December to January are usually when we see the most cases of flu and influenza, but this year cases are practically non-existent throughout BC and all across Canada, according to the BC Centre of Disease Control (BCCDC). Many believe this is due to the COVID-19 public health measures (handwashing, distancing, mask-wearing) making it harder for the flu to spread.
This year, the BCCDC tested 30,000 samples of influenza, and only about a dozen have come back as positive (though all of these were linked to people who were vaccinated, so doesn’t count as community spread). To compare, last year the centre had over 860 positive tests with one third of the testing. There have been so little positive influenza cases that a report from Public Health Agency in Canada says they can’t even declare the 2020-2021 flu season has begun. This eases the minds of many as health experts were worried about the prospect of a “twindemic” dealing with both coronavirus and flu cases at the same time.
Both the flu and COVID-19 are similar viruses in that they attack the respiratory system, but they are caused by different viruses (flu from influenza virus and COVID-19 from SARS-CoV-2). Because of the lowered flu case rate, many health officials are considering keeping these health orders in place to curb influenza in the future. Furthermore, according to CTV News, BC has seen more deaths from COVID-19 this year (1,189) than 10 years of the flu (874 from 2009 to 2019).
While tests have shown little to no influenza cases and a climbing number of coronavirus cases, the accuracy of these tests are often called into question. According to the CDC, Rapid Influenza Diagnostic Tests (RIDTs) are about 50 to 70 percent accurate and a test with low sensitivity might deem someone with influenza as negative (false negative). On the other hand, the specificity rate (extent to which a test is specific to a certain condition) for RIDTs are around 90 to 95 percent and a test with low specificity can produce positive results in those who do not actually have the virus (false positives). The CDC also says that false negatives occur more frequently than false positive results. It goes on to say that a positive result in a RIDT means that it detected influenza viral antigen but does not mean that the virus is present, or the patient is contagious. For COVID-19 testing, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Health in Ontario has stated that the Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests yield over 50 percent false positives; yet the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) claims false positives are “very rare.”