The case of the disappearing flu

This article discusses the curious case of the disappearing flu, which had its typical season cut short in March 2020 as COVID-19 emerged and as been very nearly absent since.

“The flu is gone. This is not an illusion. It’s not down to the wilful or mistaken misdiagnosis of Corona or anything like that. Most countries have long-standing influenza surveillance programs, entire offices of people whose job it is to find and track the flu. These programs are still running, and influenza tests are still widely administered across the world. Despite all of this searching, nobody can find anything but a few outliers. As a seasonal phenomenon in the northern and southern hemispheres, influenza has disappeared.”

(The Disappearance of Influenza - by eugyppius - eugyppius)

COMMENT: In support of that, here’s a plot that displays flu cases (top) and tests (bottom) for the United States as reported to the WHO’s Flunet database.

“Everything suggests that Corona has displaced influenza. Even if we can’t identify or even really conceive of the mechanism, Corona begins to resemble an invasive species that has disturbed the ecology of human-infecting respiratory viruses. Nobody will talk about this, because they are eager to claim any victory they can for mass containment. The absence of flu must be ascribed to lockdowns, even though flu is gone even in countries that have not locked down.”

COMMENT: Well, it clearly wasn’t masks or social distancing, either. Why didn’t both work on Corona?

“Someday we will awaken from the Cult of Mass Containment with a greater openness to observing the world as it is. We will notice that reports of allergies and asthma have grown much less frequent, and that masks aren’t really a plausible explanation for this. We’ll notice that almost no children are dying of seasonal respiratory illnesses for a change, and we’ll notice that seasonal Corona mortality has to be weighed against the missing deaths of seasonal flu. We’ll notice that, with every passing month, Corona grows less deadly, as resistance in the population grows, and we’ll begin to ask ourselves how the unstated policy goal of eradication is even remotely sensible. Destroying Corona would almost certainly mean bringing back influenza A, after much of our immunity has faded.”

COMMENT: ‘Someday we will awaken’. Heaven loves an optimist.

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I second what John is about to say.

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Putting on the science fiction hat, this brings to mind the hypothesis advanced by Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe in their 1980 book, Diseases from Space. Noting that the 1918 killer 'flu was detected on the same day in Boston and Bombay, they argued that just as interstellar panspermia may explain origin of life on Earth, propagation of viruses through space would be a natural consequence of the ability of life to migrate among star systems—(“…on their backs to bite them…”).

So, maybe this Coronavirus wasn’t a Chicom bioweapon, laboratory fat-finger, or mutant bat disease, but rather something that “dropped as the gentle rain from heaven”.

If this is, indeed, a better adapted virus to spread among humans which has supplanted influenza by getting there first (and perhaps [has anybody looked?] immunising them against it), and given also that the common cold is more closely related to COVID-19 than influenza, it would be interesting to also investigate the incidence of common colds since COVID-19 came on the scene.

It would make a heck of a short story plot if the main reason Big Pharma and their coercive government allies were so obsessed with suppressing COVID-19 was because it was the cure to the common cold and would destroy their lucrative and perennial market for palliatives for the congestion and sniffles.

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Really? Check your crystal ball.

I’ll bet you didn’t foresee space viruses.

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We never ran the counterfactual of going through the 2020-2021 flu season without social distancing, masks, etc. Presumably COVID would have been much worse. It may be that COVID is sufficiently more transmissible that the measures that kept it where it is were able to drop the reproduction number of the flu to what yielded this.

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An alternate but not necessarily contradictory hypothesis: In his book “The Transmission of Epidemic Influenza”, Dr. Edgar Hope-Simpson (the country doctor who first linked chicken pox and shingles) posited the idea that the flu was borne by symptomatic carriers in whom the virus would be activated by a “seasonally-mediated stimulus”. This, he said, explains why the flu can occur in many, very widely separated places nearly simultaneously, even before long distance travel became common or quick. He speculated about sunlight as the mediator but didn’t mention Vitamin D that I noticed when I read the book.

I’m going to guess COVID-19 is following the same path. Of interest to me in the link I sent is the observation that the 1918 Spanish flu had 3 waves, the first being relatively gentle. There is some evidence that this occurred with COVID-19 also. The first wave would have been in Wuhan, in Spring 2019. It was auditioning, and ready for its close-up.

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I stayed in a Holiday Inn Express last night so…

Won’t this coming potential Flu season prove or disprove the assertion that the Flu has been vanquished for now ?

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Yes, but note that would be the second consecutive year of near zero flu. My plot ends in mid October, and in a normal year the flu would just be ramping up, but the current data don’t show that, at least not yet.

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Yes, it should. Except that you always have those pesky additional variables for which to control. For example, probably fewer people got the usual seasonal 'flu vaccines this year than before due to the general lockdowns and hysteria about going out. If we see a third year of zero 'flu. the more exotic hypotheses become more plausible.

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Thanks, Cyrano, for that link to Eugyppius. Interesting post, and interesting discussion. Rather thought provoking, but not necessarily convincing.

Eugyppius is impressed that flu has disappeared around the world, as reported by many separate governmental agencies. But we have to rely on Dominion – oops! I mean World Health Organization – to compile those separate data streams. Joking aside, most of those governmental agencies, from WHO to CDC to NHS etc, have squandered their credibility because of their participation in Operation Fear. Perhaps some of the difficulties in making sense of the situation is that the data streams have been corrupted?

As some of Eugyppius’ commentators point out, the simplest explanation for the disappearance of influenza is that it has been rebranded as Covid. Eugyppius rejects that hypothesis, but I for one do not have the knowledge to assess his reasons for rejecting it.

Anyway, if we stipulate that the Covid virus almost overnight ran the influenza virus totally out of town, we would still lack any credible explanation of the mechanism for this replacement. The fight for viral dominance would have had to take place within human bodies and human societies, and would surely (a) have taken time, and (b) left tell-tale marks in sick humans.

It seems we have to admit there is much we humans currently do not understand about viral disease. All we know for sure is that Covid is broadly similar to flu in terms of rates of morbidity and mortality. And the human race has managed to live with flu for generations without the necessity of any horribly damaging political Lock Downs.

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Hi Gavin, nice to see you again.

Like Eugyppius, I also don’t think that the flu has been simply rebranded as COVID, not biologically anyway. They’re different viruses. They also have different behaviors: the flu hits the young hard, and COVID does not. I think it’s important that we’re still vigorously testing for the flu, and not finding it. If those data are being fudged by Dominion-like demons, well, I can’t go that far yet.

My lightly informed idea is that both viruses are maintained and circulated in society – especially between waves – by a relatively small number of asymptomatic super-spreaders, i.e., human reservoirs. This is Hope-Simpson’s influenza theory extended to a respiratory viral competitor. In those spreaders, maybe there’s only room for one hitchhiker, and COVID has prevailed. That’s a thinly sketched out hypothesis of “viral interference”. Obviously, not all viruses interfere with others – as the flu vanished when COVID came charging in, many other viruses did not. That makes me think the kind of person who is a flu “Typhoid Mary” is also an effective carrier of COVID.

There is the biological dimension and the political dimension. Regarding the latter, COVID has most certainly been exploited, in a way that even a nasty flu (like swine H1N1) didn’t allow. “Never let a serious crisis to go to waste.” It’s been a munificent boon for the progressive-fascists, obviously.

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That is the hand-waving part of the asserted disappearance of influenza which I puzzle over. What conceivable mechanism is there for a Covid virus to enter a human body well-populated by influenza viruses and kick those flu viruses out? Viruses don’t have the wherewithall for hand-to-hand combat. And surely any internal fighting between viruses would have obvious effects on the health of those hypothesized asymptomatic super-spreaders?

Looking at pre-Covid CDC records, there have been unidentified “Influenza-Like Illnesses” (ILI) reported for years – often in large numbers. I suspect the real answer to the asserted disappearance of flu lies somewhere in that mystery.

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Actually, there are viruses which prey on other viruses: see the SCANALYZER post “Giant Viruses and Their Predators” from 2021-09-01. But I know of no evidence the COVID virus is such a predator.

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Most viral infections lead to the manufacture of interferon, of which there are many varieties. These cytokines may prevent infection by other viruses while one infection is underway. They are not very well understood, but may play a plausible role in excluding influenza, especially since it seems there are many infections with Covid which produce few or no symptoms. As to the common cold, I have read several reports from virologists who say there is cross immunization, to some extent, between the common cold and Covid; both are coronaviruses and may share some antigens.

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Interesting! The main message my small brain can take from that is that we know so little, and probably understand less, about the denizens of the “microverse”. By implication, some of what we think we know may be incomplete – or simply wrong.

Bottom line – when we create a new class of treatment like mRNA genetic material, and controversially classify it as a “vaccine” (Is a hovercraft a ship or an aircraft?, to analogize a previous classification controversy), we are like a little kid wandering into the control room of a vast plant and pushing buttons. The potential for unintended consequences is significant.

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The cavalier attitude with which this mRNA vaccine was rapidly rolled out and administered to around half the world population is worrisome. One thing which is known is that it is relatively likely for DNA (or RNA following the action of reverse transcriptase) which enters the cell to gain access to the nucleus and to be incorporated into the genome. Talk about the potential for unintended consequences…

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From the video: “Their goal is to misappropriate the victim’s infrastructure and procreate.”

So, we’ve discovered the origin of lobbyists?

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The flu, tho nearly absent in N America (bottom plot), is returning to India (top). The numbers are small for such a highly populated place, so clearly they don’t do much surveillance, but if their surveillance hasn’t materially changed, flu is awakening. If the interference hypothesis is correct…

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As you will recall, influenza retreated quickly and dramatically from its usual seasonal variation as COVID started spreading in early 2020, perhaps representing viral interference. Some of us have started expecting that when (not if) the flu starts re-emerging, the return to pre-COVID “normalcy” might be at hand.

Well, let’s take a quick look at what’s happening in two European nations, lockdown-happy Germany and laissez-faire Sweden, in the form of two time series.

First, COVID deaths per million. Germany and Sweden have started to diverge. Sweden ostensibly did poorly in early 2020, perhaps in part due to a generous definition of ‘COVID death’, but it remains that – however defined – Swedish deaths are now lagging well behind German ones.

And now flu cases from The Who FluNet database. Flu cases disappeared in both nations in early 2020 with unnatural rapidity compared to historical behavior, but the flu has started to re-emerge in Sweden (top panel). The German (bottom panel) numbers are very small for a nation of that size, but presuming their surveillance sampling and reporting strategy hasn’t changed, it seems that the flu has not yet regained a foothold in that country.

It’s early days, but a reasonable guess at this point is the COVID era ends when influenza returns and COVID is retreating in Sweden. Time will tell.

Sources:

https://ourworldindata.org for COVID data

For visualization of WHO FluNet, I am using: Microsoft Power BI

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That’s the WHO, not The Who. Roger Daltrey called to complain.

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