Pediatricians report all-time low flu cases this winter

NORWOOD, Mass. — Local pediatricians are seeing dramatically reduced flu cases or none at all this winter due mainly to COVID-19 precautions.

Of the 7,000 children Pediatric Associates of Norwood and Franklin sees, most same-day visits during the winter months are for the flu, with about five to 10 each day from December through February, Dr. Jeff Kolodney told Boston 25 News Thursday.

But this winter is a first in his career.

“We might have five to six hundred cases of flu over a winter season. And this year, zero,” Kolodney said. “I’ve been practicing pediatrics for 22 years. This is an anomaly.”

Statewide, flu rates are down more than 95 percent this year, Kolodney said.

During the 2019-2020 flu season, 188 children across the U.S., died of the disease, tying the high mark set by the 2017-2018 flu season, the Centers for Disease Control reported.

But this year, only one child in the country has died of the flu.

“It’s one of the few silver linings in this awful winter with COVID,” Kolodney said. “I’m happy for the kids. It does make our days a little quieter here, which is fine. We’ll handle it. We’re plenty busy handling questions about COVID.”

The decrease is primarily a byproduct of strict measures the public has taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including mask-wearing, social distancing and more thorough handwashing and general hygiene, Kolodney said. Hybrid and remote learning have also drastically reduced children’s exposure.

The state’s flu vaccination mandate for students – though eventually rescinded – as well less international travel bringing the flu from countries that have earlier seasons, has also likely had an impact, Kolodney said.

Leading up to the winter, medical experts had feared a bad flu season on top of a COVID-19 spike would overload the healthcare system, creating a crisis similar to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic last spring.

“That would’ve been a nightmare scenario,” Kolodney said. “And thank goodness that didn’t happen.”

Kolodney’s practice is also seeing dramatically lower cases of strep throat and other infectious illnesses, including a greater-than-90-percent drop in bronchiolitis caused by respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a common winter virus that affects infants and young children. Typically, the practice has an RSV hospitalization each week. But this season, there have been none.

Kolodney said this season’s numbers highlight the need to continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing – to prevent both the flu and coronavirus – even as more people in the state are vaccinated for COVID-19 each week.

Such precautions, he said, will help get kids back to their normal lives at a time when their mental health is suffering.

As the isolation of the pandemic and the disruption in kids’ lives take a toll on their health, Kolodney’s practice has been taking daily crisis calls – sometimes two a day – compared to the single call the offices received each week or two before the pandemic.

“The end is in sight, but we’re not there yet,” Kolodney said. “For our kids to get back to their regular activities, we need the adults to act responsibly, get vaccinated and not spread the disease.”

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