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Flu strain extinction because of COVID-19?

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Posted at 4:36 PM, Oct 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-07 13:35:03-04

BALTIMORE (WMAR) — After a very mild flu season, doctors say we have already seen more cases than this time last year. But there’s one strain that hasn’t appeared since the pandemic hit.

For the last 5 years, we’ve had 4 strains of the flu that circulate seasonally. Two influenza A strains, and 2 B strains.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused a notable global reduction in cases, but in a recent article, Australian microbiology researchers found it might have caused something else— extinction.

One of the B strains, the Yamagata lineage, has not been detected from April 2020 to August 2021.

“This article is raising questions as to whether it’s gone extinct or is it just dormant” said Dr. Sabra Klein.

Dr. Klein is a molecular microbiology professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She said it’s too soon to know the answer.

“I think it’s gonna take another season or so for us to really see if it does pop up elsewhere,” said Dr. Klein.

But she said what is evident right now, is that public health measures: wearing a mask, social distancing and washing your hands, work.

“This is a great example to show that public health measures, when put into practice at a global level, can limit spread,” said Dr. Klein.

If the Yamagata strain is in fact extinct, it could lead to improved availability and effectiveness of flu vaccines by eliminating one of the four vaccine targets.

In a broader sense, Dr. Klein said it’s shows we have the power to keep people healthy and it could mean the reduction of more respiratory illnesses in the future if lifestyle changes are made.

“As a result of the pandemic, maybe more people, if they don’t have a mask on they are sneezing or coughing into their arm instead of their hands. I think we are all a bit more conscious of what’s on our hands and where our hands have been,” said Dr. Klein.

Dr. Klein also said because the Yamagata strain is only passed person to person and not through animals, like the A strains, that could account for limited spread during the pandemic.