There seems to be an unexpected benefit from the precautions that Americans — and Utahns — are taking because of the coronavirus pandemic. Seasonal influenza cases are way down across the nation at a time when cases are normally on the rise.

Late in October, the Utah Department of Health reported that there were no patients hospitalized in the state for the flu. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a similar nationwide.

But with flu showing similar symptoms to the virus, healthcare officials are being careful.

“If somebody has signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and they test negative, in my mind, that’s still COVID-19 (to us),” Intermountain Healthcare’s Dr. Eddie Stenehjem said recently in a media session. Respiratory virus surveillance across Utah within the Intermountain Healthcare system has shown there aren’t any other viral respiratory pathogens — like influenza and rhinovirus (the common cold) — widely circulating, Stenehjem said. “So, if somebody has a viral respiratory illness with fever, cough and myalgia and things like that, that’s COVID, regardless of what your test says because there’s nothing else circulating.”

However, the influenza virus is not new and treatment plans and vaccinations are widely available. It’s important for doctors to know which one people have in order to treat patients with the best care.

Flu testing in the Intermountain healthcare network increased by 450 percent in October compared to October of last year, according to Stenehjem.

Flu season generally runs from October through May and for months health officials have pleaded with the public to follow public health guidelines and get a flu shot. Many entities in Utah offer free flu shots, including the Salt Lake County Health Department.

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