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COVID-19 mitigation measures contribute to mild flu season in western Pa. and beyond, doctors say

ALLEGHENY CO., Pa. — Despite fears that influenza would combine with the coronavirus to create a so-called ‘twindemic,’ this flu season has been a mild one.

So far, Allegheny County has reported zero flu-related deaths, three hospitalizations and 180 cases. According to Channel 11 News’ exchange partners at TribLIVE, that’s a notable drop from last year’s 12 deaths, 115 hospitalizations and over 10,000 cases.

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“This isn’t even a mild flu season. This is like no season,” said Dr. Richard Zimmerman, one of the top flu experts in the country. A professor of family medicine and public health at the University of Pittsburgh and a practicing physician, Zimmerman directs PittVax, a long-running Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-funded study of flu activity and vaccine effectiveness.

At Allegheny Valley Hospital in Harrison, there has been only one flu case so far this season, said Dr. William Bailey, chief medical officer at Allegheny Health Network and an active emergency department physician.

The Trib reported that the same trends are true for Excela Health, said Kathleen Rosatti, director of clinical outcomes management, patient safety and infection control.

“This time last year, we had seen a total of 900 patients,” Rosatti said. “Right now, we barely have any. We’re down to single digits.”

Low flu numbers persist statewide, with 2,748 laboratory-confirmed cases throughout the commonwealth as of Feb. 20, said Amber Liggett, a Pennsylvania Department of Health spokeswoman. During the 2019-20 flu season, the DOH recorded over 130,000 cases statewide.

She said Pennsylvania has reported 34 influenza-related hospitalizations and 14 deaths during the current flu season.

Health officials told the Tribune-Review the mitigation measures in place to curb the spread of COVID-19 are likely the key to this year’s mild flu season. Less international travel also helped limit the spread of the flu.