INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana’s first week of seasonal influenza tracking shows “minimal” impact of the flu, with 63 influenza-like illnesses detected.
The state started its annual flu surveillance reporting in October, with the first of 32 weeks of tracking across the state that takes the reports into May.
“The purpose of this report is to describe the spread and prevalence of influenza-like illness (ILI) in Indiana. It is meant to provide local health departments, hospital administrators, health professionals and residents with a general understanding of the burden of ILI. Data from several surveillance programs are analyzed to produce this report. Data are provisional and may change as additional information is received, reviewed and verified,” the report states.
Weekly flu surveillance reports from this year and previous years can be found on the Indiana State Department of Health website at in.gov/isdh/22104.htm.
Skeptics about the impact of COVID-19 have often compared it to seasonal influenza, although state health officials have repeatedly struck down the comparison between the two diseases, stating while similar in symptoms and transmission, COVID-19 has proven to be much more deadly.
In the 2019-20 season, the state recorded a total of 132 deaths attributed to flu, which was average in comparison to other years. That was up from 113 deaths in 2018-19.
The worst flu season in recent history was 2017-18, when 336 deaths were recorded around the state.
By comparison, the state has logged more than 3,600 COVID-19 deaths since March this year.
In the first week of flu tracking this season, the state reported zero deaths and 63 influenza-like illnesses from its surveillance system.
Those results were for the week ending Oct. 3.
That number put the percentage of cases being detected a little above recent years, but still below the state’s baseline. As such, the health department has currently rated flu activity as “minimal.”
The state health department does note that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic may affect flu figures this year, depending on how people access health care this winter.
“The COVID-19 pandemic may affect health care seeking behavior which in turn would impact Indiana’s sentinel and syndromic ILI data. Reporting of ILI geographic distribution and school-wide outbreaks of influenza have been suspended for the duration of the 2020-2021 influenza season,” the report notes.
The weekly report also includes a section where the state will identify different strains of influenza as well as other non-influenza pathogens that may be detected during testing at the state lab.
The chart tracking “other” illnesses does have an item for SARS-Coronavirus-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, but the report that column will only track specimens specifically tested at the state laboratory. The report notes “specimens are screened for both influenza and SARS-CoV-2.”
The state health department did not specimen test in the first week of flu tracking, so those charts currently have no results populated.
State and local health officials have strongly encouraged Hoosiers to get flu vaccines this year to help protect against that widely-circulating virus and in an effort to help protect health care providers and hospitalized persons against unnecessary strain on resources from flu that could be prevented via flu shots.
Mitigation measures in place for COVID-19 including mask usage and social distancing are also likely to help mitigate spread of seasonal flu, so it’s possible the state could see reduced numbers of influenza infections and deaths this year if people vaccinate at higher levels and practice interventions that they typically wouldn’t do in a normal year.