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Illustration: Axios Visuals

Reports of the flu have "virtually disappeared" in the U.S. amid the coronavirus pandemic, the AP reports, during a season when the disease would otherwise be packing doctors' offices and hospitals.

The intrigue: The drop in flu illnesses is in part a byproduct of efforts intended to curb the spread of COVID-19 — like wearing masks, social distancing, and remote schooling, experts tell AP. The significant drop in travel, as well as a public push to encourage people to get the flu vaccine, also likely had an effect.

The bottom line: Nationally, Centers for Disease Control scientist Lynnette Bramme said it's likely the "lowest flu season we've had on record," according to a surveillance system that has been operating for 25 years.

  • "The numbers are astonishing considering flu has long been the nation’s biggest infectious disease threat," AP writes.
  • The flu typically results in 600,000 to 800,000 hospitalizations a year, and between 50,000 and 60,000 deaths.

The big picture: Flu activity has also been down in China, Europe, South Africa, Australia and other parts of the globe during their respective peak seasons as well.

Go deeper

Feb 24, 2021 - Health

White House to send 25 million free masks to America's most vulnerable

Anthony Fauci wears a protective mask while listening to President Biden. Photo: Oliver Contreras/Sipa/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Biden administration announced Wednesday it will send more than 25 million masks to more than 1,300 community health centers and 60,000 food pantries and soup kitchens in order to reach some Americans most vulnerable to COVID-19.

Why it matters: Many studies show wearing tightly fit masks, and even double-masking, is effective to curb the spread of COVID-19 when social distancing is not possible.

Feb 24, 2021 - Health

Moderna says vaccine for South Africa COVID-19 variant ready for testing

A doctor drawing the Moderna vaccine into syringes in Central Falls, Rhode Island, on Feb. 13. Photo: Joseph Prezioso

Vaccine producer Moderna announced Wednesday it is sending doses of a new vaccine designed to better protect against the coronavirus variant first discovered in South Africa to the National Institutes of Health for a Phase 1 clinical trial.

Why it matters: The trial is a major step toward producing and distributing a vaccine specifically designed for the South Africa variant, which may spread faster and more easily than the original coronavirus strain, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

United CEO is confident people will feel safe traveling again by 2022

Axios' Joann Muller and United CEO Scott Kirby. Photo: Axios

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby believes that people will feel safe traveling again by this time next year, depending on the pace of vaccinations and the government's ongoing response to the pandemic, he said at an Axios virtual event.

Why it matters: Misery for global aviation is likely to continue and hold back a broader economic recovery if nothing changes, especially with new restrictions on international border crossings. U.S. airlines carried about 60% fewer passengers in 2020 compared with 2019.