Two varieties of flu seem to have disappeared during lockdown. Experts say it’s possible they’re gone.

An indication factors in the direction of a flu vaccination heart. Getty/ Jeff Greenberg / Contributor

  • Two varieties of flu have not been noticed for over a yr, STAT reported.

  • Public-health measures to management the pandemic may have led these strains to disappear.

  • However, it’s nonetheless possible they’re circulating undetected.

  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

It’s been a lonely yr to be an influenza virus.

Infectious-disease protections put in place during the pandemic to shield individuals from COVID-19, reminiscent of masks necessities, faculty closures, and journey restrictions, made it practically impossible for flu viruses to journey in addition to they usually do.

The US, as an example, noticed a 98% decrease in hospitalizations for flu within the 2020-2021 season. Rates within the UK dropped by 95%.

This was not only a outcome of sick individuals staying out of the clinic during the pandemic.

“There was a lot of flu testing happening, there was just not a lot of flu virus,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention epidemiologist Alicia Budd informed Insider during a latest Association of Health Care Journalists fellowship. “The peak – if you can call it that – was 0.4% of the specimens tested for flu were positive.”

Normally during the peak of flu season within the US, the quantity of constructive assessments ranges between 24-30%.

In reality, it’s possible that the sharp drop in flu instances has been so dramatic this yr that it killed off some variations of the flu. Two varieties have not been seen for over a yr, STAT reported. That may make it simpler for vaccine makers to construct a greater flu vaccine – one focused at a dwindling quantity of threats.

But consultants warning it’s nonetheless too early to draw any conclusions, partially as a result of there have been so few constructive flu assessments recorded final season.

“The actual number of specimens this year compared to previous seasons is extremely low,” Budd stated. “It’s obviously still important to know what viruses are out there … That helps us understand a little what we might be on the lookout for this coming season and if there are updates that are needed to the vaccine.”

2 flu viruses have been lacking from databases for over a yr

coronavirus flu shot

An advert presents free flu pictures in New York City on August 21, 2020. John Nacion/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images

The flu virus household is cut up into two sorts: A and B. Type A is made up of subtypes, two of which account for almost all of kind A flu viruses in individuals: H1N1 and H3N2. Those are additional damaged down into clades. Type B influenza, in the meantime, is cut up into two lineages, B/Victoria and B/Yamagata, that are additionally sub-divided into clades.

Since March 2020, there have been no stories of one specific clade of H3N2 (referred to as 3c3.A), in accordance to GISAID, a worldwide database during which researchers register and monitor which flu viruses are circulating.

“I do think we’re likely to lose a little bit of the H3N2 diversity,” Richard Webby, a flu expert at St Jude Children’s Research Hospital, informed STAT.

He stated that’d be a “great thing” for the annual decision-making about which strains to goal with vaccines – a course of Webby takes half in annually.

“Currently when we sit down to make recommendations for vaccine strains, it’s always the headache virus,” he stated of H3N2.

flu vaccine strains lab testing

Medical technicians on the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine virology lab carry out assessments for viruses together with dengue fever, H1N1 influenza, and HIV/AIDS, in Manila on September 1, 2009. Jay Directo/AFP through Getty Images

There have additionally not been any stories of flu viruses within the B/Yamagata lineage recorded on GISAID since March 2020, however consultants assume it’s a much less seemingly that one disappeared.

“The Yamagata and Victoria lineage viruses have been in co-circulation for more than 30 years,” Dr. Larisa Gubareva, a flu virologist on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, informed Insider.

Even if sure variations of the flu are dwindling in sure areas, she added, “they could still be causing infections in areas with limited virological surveillance, or they could potentially adapt again to gain a competitive advantage.”

“Flu viruses are constantly changing. It’s not unusual to see new viruses, or even groups of viruses, emerge and then wane,” Gubareva stated.

This can also be a tough time to draw definitive conclusions in regards to the flu viruses, since few constructive flu samples have been collected final yr.

In a traditional yr, flu watchers on the CDC acquire and genetically characterize hundreds of flu viruses, Budd stated. “This season, as of the beginning of May, we had just made it to 10.”

Could this make it simpler to create higher flu pictures?

flu vaccine grown in chicken eggs

Production of a flu vaccine: Before being deactivated, flu strains are grown inside of an egg. Alexander Ryumin/TASS through Getty Images

If any flu selection is actually gone for good, that might be excellent news for the scientists who make annual flu vaccines.

The WHO meets twice annually to predict which viruses will probably be dominant the next season, in order that nations can produce vaccines in time. (The most up-to-date assembly occurred in February for the Northern Hemisphere.) But their predictions are considerably hit-or-miss, for the reason that flu continues to flow into and alter in unpredictable methods at a speedy fee. If a flu virus that is not effectively coated by the vaccine turns into extra outstanding than was predicted, even vaccinated individuals is probably not completely protected.

This was the case during the 2017-2018 flu season, when three quarters of people who got the flu shot in the US weren’t coated in opposition to the most typical pressure of H3N2 that wound up circulating. The CDC estimates that round 61,000 people died from the flu that season, the heaviest influenza dying toll within the US for the reason that 2009 swine flu pandemic.

However, flu watchers like Budd are hopeful that this yr’s shot may match circulating strains higher. Out of the 10 totally different flu viruses the CDC tracked down final season, 4 have been H3N2s and 4 have been B/Victorias. Those eight all match the genetic teams coated on this yr’s vaccine. Still, it’s too quickly to predict what’s going to occur with the flu this fall and winter.

“We’re going to have to wait and see, because flu is unpredictable,” Budd stated. “I certainly would expect, though, that as life returns more and more towards pre-pandemic ways, that respiratory virus circulation will likely return to something more what we’re used to than what we saw this past year.”

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