There has been a historically low number of flu cases due to the emphasis of social distancing and good hygiene amid COVID-19, according to a graph published by The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP).
“There were only 208 laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza in Australia last month, compared to 30,567 in May 2019 – a decrease of more than 99 per cent,” the graph, which as posted on Twitter, was captioned.
There has been a dramatic drop in cases over the last three months. In March, as Australia went into lockdown, there were 5892 confirmed flu cases. By April the number had dropped to 307, followed by 208 in May.
Dr Kerry Hancock told NewsGP she was “incredibly surprised” by the results and said the decline in transmission proved the positive impact social distancing and good hygiene can have.
“It just tells us the value of physically distancing, good hand hygiene, avoiding mass gatherings [when sick], cough etiquette and being aware of all those other strategies to avoid the transmission of infectious diseases,” she said.
Dr Evan Ackermann said the trend supports health advice that has always been suggested, but “now people are living it”.
“People in public places are not only washing their hands, but they’re quarantining when sick, and many are using a face mask when in public. It really is something that I hope is going to lead to some long-term behavioural change,” he said.
Dr Hancock agrees that while certain aspects of lockdown are not ideal in long-term, she hopes some of the messages about hygiene will stick around long after the coronavirus pandemic has passed.
“Maybe it’s not the way we want to spend our lives – not being able to attend concerts and the movies and gather in crowds – but it certainly shows that we can make a difference by at least implementing some of these strategies [in the longer term],” she said.
“Once again, Australia can be really proud of the fact that we’ve done what we’ve been told to do with regard to COVID-19,” she added.
Dr Ackermann suggests that continuing the practises Australia has adopted over the last few months could be even more effective than a flu vaccine for those in low-risk populations.
“For the majority of the population, improved personal hygiene options are more likely to be effective than just receiving a flu vaccine,” he said.
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