While much of Maine struggles to contain the COVID-19 virus, another virus that can cause some similar symptoms has faded this winter, most likely because of the precautions the public has been urged to take to curb COVID.

Health care providers have reported just 89 cases of the flu statewide between Oct. 9 and last Saturday, according to figures provided by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. From 2016 to this season, Maine saw a yearly average of 547 flu cases and 76 hospitalizations due to the flu, according to the Associated Press.

Maine reported 386 new cases of COVID-19 and five additional deaths Tuesday, as health care providers have begun scheduling vaccinations this week for Maine residents age 70 and older. There have been no deaths reported as a result of influenza or related illnesses such as pneumonia this season in Maine.

The 89 flu cases is about 85 percent fewer than typically reported by this time of year, the Associated Press reported.  At this point last year, Maine had 1,287 influenza cases.

The decline in Maine mirrors what has been happening nationally. From September to January, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported just 1,103 flu cases.

The federal CDC also posted a notice on its website stating that “seasonal influenza activity in the United States remains lower than usual for this time of year.”

A higher than normal number of flu tests have been administered this year, but the number of positive results has been significantly lower than normal, the U.S. CDC said. A map posted on the U.S. CDC’s website shows low to minimal flu activity in all 50 states.

State health experts say that precautions taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as mask-wearing, physical distancing and washing hands frequently, are helping reduce the number of flu cases. Another factor is that more people got flu shots before the season got underway. The symptoms for both viruses are similar.

“We do have a vaccine for flu that could also be why we are not seeing much flu spread but we are seeing COVID-19 spreading as well,” Anna Krueger, an epidemiologist and the Maine CDC influenza surveillance coordinator, told News Center Maine.

The U.S. CDC estimates that last season fewer than half of American got a flu vaccine and that at least 410,000 people were hospitalized with flu symptoms.

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