Saudi Arabia saw a 98 percent drop in flu cases over the past three months compared to the same time last year, a decrease that the health minister said was a result of health precautions implemented amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
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“As a result of applying health precautions, the number of seasonal flu cases in the Kingdom decreased by more than 98 [percent] in the past three months compared to the same period last year,” Health Minister Dr. Tawfiq al-Rabiah said in a tweet.
The Kingdom implemented strict coronavirus measures including mandatory mask wearing, travel restrictions and social distancing requirements early during the outbreak to help curb the spread of the new virus. These preventative measures may have also prevented the spread of the flu, which spreads in the same way as the coronavirus: through aerial droplets and through contact with the eyes, mouth, or nose.
Australia and other countries in the Southern Hemisphere saw similar “shallow figures” during their flu season earlier this year, according to Reuters. Data reported in Europe since early October also show a lower number of flu cases than previous years.
“Some doctors say a combination of lockdowns, mask wearing and handwashing appear to have hampered transmission of the flu, while warning that the data should be treated with caution because the peak of the season is weeks or even months away,” Reuters reported on Tuesday.
According to Flu News Europe, a joint monitoring platform of the European center for Disease Prevention and Control and the World Health Organization which collects samples in 54 European regions, only one person was diagnosed with flu out of 4,433 sentinel tests during September to November 22.
This sentinel-source data – case figures collated by national health authorities based on samples taken by a range of community doctors – translates into a positivity rate of 0.02 percent. That rate is well below a 10 percent threshold that the WHO considers to be “epidemic” when it comes to flu.
At the same time last year, this percentage stood at 15 percent.