Amid COVID outbreak, no flu infections recorded in Israel this season

More Israelis decided to vaccinate this year compared to last year, with 25.3% of the population vaccinated this season compared to 22% last season.

An Israeli medical worker holds vials containing a vaccine for H1N1 flu virus in Tel Aviv, 2009 (photo credit: HEIDI LEVINE/POOL/REUTERS)
An Israeli medical worker holds vials containing a vaccine for H1N1 flu virus in Tel Aviv, 2009
(photo credit: HEIDI LEVINE/POOL/REUTERS)
As high coronavirus infection rates continue to impact the country, Israel still hasn't recorded any cases of the flu this season, the Israel Center for Disease Control (ICDC) announced on Sunday.
Despite the lack of recorded flu cases, there has been a moderate increase in pneumonia cases, but the rate of respiratory infections this season is still lower than expected.
More Israelis decided to vaccinate this year compared to last year, with 25.3% of the population vaccinated this season compared to 22% last season.
The flu season tends to begin around October and peak between December and February. The season can continue as late as May.
Last flu season was particularly severe in Israel and around the world. Some 1,045 flu infections were recorded in the 2019-2020 flu season, of which 344 patients were hospitalized with severe acute respiratory infections, according to the ICDC. The infection rates were higher in the 2019-2020 season than in the two preceding seasons.
Israelis rushed to get vaccinated after a string of deaths were reported due to the flu, including a number of youth and infants.
Due to delays by the World Health Organization, vaccinations were not offered in Israel at the expected dates in 2019, but were delayed to early November.
At the time, Prof. Dr. Yaakov Lavi stated that “veteran doctors such as us have never encountered such aggressiveness with the disease, and this is a warning sign for us all.”
“I’ve seen flu patients for many years, but we’ve never encountered a flu this severe and aggressive,” said Lavi, stressing that a patient he was treating who is now in critical condition was a “completely healthy man. You can’t think, ‘this won’t happen to me.’”
Before the flu season even began in Israel, health officials predicted that the social distancing measures in place to fight the novel coronavirus could also lower influenza infection rates, as lower flu infection rates were reported in the Southern Hemisphere where it was winter at the time.
“There are some hints from the Southern Hemisphere that the public health measures to prevent COVID-19 also reduce influenza,” chairman of the Israeli Public Health Physicians Association Prof. Hagai Levine told The Jerusalem Post in August. “There will now be a very unique situation that may teach us how to better prepare for the flu season even after COVID-19 is over.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, both COVID-19 and the flu are spread in a similar manner, via person-to-person contact or between people who are within about two meters of each other. Both are spread mainly by droplets made when people with the illnesses cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into their lungs.
Already in May, these measures were found to have shortened the flu season in the Northern Hemisphere by about six weeks, according to the World Health Organization. 
“Public-health measures such as movement restrictions, social distancing and increased personal hygiene likely had an effect on decreasing influenza and other respiratory virus transmission,” WHO told Nature magazine in May.
Since an estimated 290,000 to 650,000 people typically die worldwide from seasonal flu, that means the shorter season could have spared tens of thousands of lives.
Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman contributed to this report.