COVID-19 safety measures contributing to historically low flu cases

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- As COVID-19 numbers continue to rise, positive flu cases are at a historical low. ABC13 spoke with a Houston doctor to find out why.

This season, Texas has had 434 positive flu tests. Last year, at this time, there were nearly 24,000 positive cases, according to Texas Health and Human Services.

Even the number of patients going to the hospital with flu-like symptoms is far below what it has been in past years. UT Physicians and UT Health infectious disease pediatrician, Dr. Michael Chang, said there are several reasons for the chart-dropping numbers.

Since they are both similar respiratory viruses, he said the steps we are taking to prevent the coronavirus, like social distancing and wearing a mask, are helping to stop spread of the flu.

Chang said we also didn't start with the same burden of the flu we normally do from the southern hemisphere. Since we have opposite seasons, their lockdowns and COVID-19 safety measures kept the spread minimal to the northern hemisphere.

Doctors also believe the coronavirus is more contagious than the flu.

Another major reason for lower flu cases this year is due to children.

"We see that kids are really the vectors for flu more than adults. So it's the child at home who infects their parents or grandparents. Because our kids are physical distancing and wearing masks and doing hygiene, they are not getting a lot of flu, so they are not driving these flu infections like we would normally see in the winter," Chang said.

Another big factor is the flu vaccine.

According to Chang, though the vaccine changes every year, aspects of the flu virus are consistent and our bodies have built up a small pre-existing immunity..

COVID-19, on the other hand, is something totally new, to which we have no defense.

However, the COVID-19 vaccine uses mRNA technology, which contains instructions for our body on how to fight the coronavirus. So far, more than a million people have already gotten the COVID-19 vaccine, according to Gov. Greg Abbott.

In order for Houston to reach herd immunity, the city would have to vaccinate about 70% of the entire population, said Dr. James McCarthy, executive vice president and chief physicians executive at Memorial Hermann. That's about 50,000 people a day.

McCarthy said we're not there yet, but when we have the supply, Houston could pull that off.

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