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Coronavirus measures lead to lower influenza numbers across the Southern Hemisphere

Coronavirus measures lead to lower influenza numbers across the Southern Hemisphere

Coronavirus restrictions have led to lower influenza numbers across the Southern Hemisphere during its winter months, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

Countries in the Southern Hemisphere, including Argentina, South Africa and New Zealand, have reported an unexpected drop in influenza and other seasonal respiratory viral infections the past two months. 

Experts told the newspaper the reason the number of total infections is lower than expected is because of the coronavirus measures instituted to stop the spread of the pandemic, like mask-wearing and travel restrictions. 

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The data could prove as good news for the U.S. and Europe as public health experts worry about what the fall and winter months will bring with the flu season in addition to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Experts fear the spread of both infections could overwhelm hospitals.

Chile has documented 1,134 seasonal respiratory infections so far this year, while last year during the same period, it recorded 20,949 infections, according to the Journal. 

Similarly, Australia counted 85 confirmed influenza cases in the last two weeks of June, compared to 22,047 in the same two weeks last year. Australia found its confirmed influenza cases fell to 20,739 from January through June, when last year the country had 132,424 cases.

Argentine officials report that influenza cases dropped to 151,189 from January to early July, compared to an average of 420,737 during that period over the past five years, according to the newspaper.

Sylvain Aldighieri, the deputy director of the Department of Health Emergencies at the Pan American Health Organization, told the Journal without the strict COVID-19 restrictions, he thinks the number of flu infections would been at normal levels. 

Several countries in the Southern Hemisphere had strict lockdowns, with most banning large gatherings, shutting down schools and residents developing healthier habits. Chile, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand have all prohibited international entry to their countries since March.

But Aldighieri said the U.S. and Europe have instituted less restrictions on international arrivals, making them more likely to deal with a normal flu season.