Global flu infections hit record lows amid pandemic

Public health officials and experts watching the dark cloud of the coronavirus pandemic have picked out the tiniest of silver linings: This year’s influenza transmission appears to be one of the lowest in recorded history.

Experts said it is too early to draw conclusions about what the winter months might bring as colder weather descends on the Northern Hemisphere. But data from the Southern Hemisphere suggests the worst-case scenario — a wave of influenza piling onto health care systems already stressed by a surge of coronavirus cases — might not come to pass.

“They had amazingly low transmission rates,” Christine Petersen, an epidemiologist who studies influenza at the University of Iowa, said of the Southern Hemisphere. “There was no decent levels of transmission anywhere, except for Southeast Asia.”

Data collected by the World Health Organization show remarkably low levels of influenza-like illnesses this year, compared to years past. In March — typically the height of influenza season in the Southern Hemisphere — about 36 of every 1,000 outpatients showed a flu-like illness. In the spring of 2017, the most recent year of significant spread, that number was north of 200 per every 1,000 patients.