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Sharp drop in influenza cases in Montana after "social distancing" implementation

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Posted at 8:05 AM, Apr 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-18 10:09:58-04

HELENA — The federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) says that social distancing has helped reduce the spread of COVID-19. In Montana, it appears to have also played a role in influenza season winding down.

“The sharp decline [in influenza numbers] is pretty interesting this year,” said Stacey Anderson, epidemiologist with the Montana Department of Public Health & Human Services.

There were more than 1,000 new confirmed flu cases each week during the six weeks leading up to the implementation of social distancing by the state in March.

After the state began social distancing, the number of new confirmed cases each week dropped drastically.

For the week ending on March 21, Montana was down to less than 500 new cases that week. The week after, March 28, the state was down to just over 310 new confirmed cases. By the week of April 7, Montana saw less than 50 new cases.

DPHHS can’t say with 100 percent certainty that social distancing is the cause of the large decline, since spring is also the time when flu numbers tend to drop anyway. However, because of COVID-19, health departments across the state have been testing more people for influenza.

“We’re certainly looking for [influenza] with COVID in the picture. That is one of the things we test for to see if we can identify what the person might have other than COVID with similar symptoms,,” explained Anderson.

Anderson added that social distancing has traditionally helped prevent people from catching and spreading diseases in general. “I think for most communicable diseases, social distancing is one of the things we’re always telling folks they could be doing to prevent getting those diseases,” said Anderson.

Since November, Montana has seen 11,246 confirmed cases of influenza that have resulted in 488 hospitalizations and 17 deaths. Click here to read the most recent DPHHS report on influenza season.