Very mild flu season likely thanks to COVID safety measures, local doctor explains

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GUILDERLAND, N.Y. (NEWS10) — 2020 is a time when we don’t shake hands, stay six feet away from hugs, and keep masks in every pocket. There is a bright side riding on the COVID-19 pandemic coattails — the most mild flu season in at least four years alone.

“In my practice, we’re seeing very little illness, very little snot noses and schmutz coming out of noses and coughing, because people are behaving. So this is good! This is very, very good,” explains Dr. James Saperstone, a Community Care Physicians pediatrician with his own practice in Guilderland.

New York State just released the latest flu season numbers, with last week’s numbers added to the annual 52-week breakdown of the year. Although New York is still far from peak season, the data shows this time in 2017, 2018, and 2019 cases had ramped into the thousands. The 2019 data was a recent high at 5,297 in one week, but 2020 flu cases are at an all time low at 304.

“The masks that we wear prevent the flu from spreading somewhere else, it kind of has nowhere to go so it begins to diminish as well,” explains Dr. Saperstone. “The Capital Region, I’m pleased to say has been very smart and compliant. I see much more awareness and good behavior.”

He says since flu and COVID spread much the same way through coughing, sneezing, etc., our COVID safety measures have kept the flu largely at bay. However, he says that doesn’t mean it isn’t still there.

“The problem is getting the flu and being more susceptible to getting a more severe form of COVID, or getting COVID and being susceptible to getting a more severe form of flu,” Dr. Saperstone explains to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton. “Say you’re at home and you get a fever and feel achy, well if you haven’t had your flu shot, how will you know if you have the flu or COVID? With a flu shot and when you’re immunized, your doctors will have a much better idea of how to proceed.”

He says it’s important more than ever to get a flu shot, keep up with masks and social distancing, and explain it to kids since they are more at risk for serious illness.

“I find it’s better to talk to a child who understands that if you want to keep grandma and grandpa healthy, get the flu shot, because you don’t want to give them the flu. I think that resonates most with them,” he says. “Of course you can tell them it’s to keep them from getting sick, but I find when you explain it’s giving them a job and being responsible for taking care of others, they feel more involved.”

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