DoH Final Flu Update of 2020-2021 Season; One of Mildest Seasons on Record

Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam and Deputy Secretary of Health Preparedness and Community Protection Ray Barishansky said that the 2020-2021 flu season was one of the mildest flu seasons on record and ended on May 22.

“As we end the flu season this year with fewer than 4,000 cases, I want to emphasize that this is one of the mildest flu seasons on record for Pennsylvania,” Acting Secretary Beam said. “The previous season was higher than usual with more than 130,900 cases of flu. That is a stark difference from where we ended in 2021. The low flu activity, in part, is a testament to effective COVID-19 mitigation efforts that also prevent the flu, since the two infectious diseases spread the same way. In addition, a record number of individuals got their flu vaccine this season.”

Flu activity remained low across the commonwealth and nationally the entire season. The 2020-2021 season, with the co-circulation of COVID-19, was comparable to the 2015-2016 season when the H1N1 flu virus predominated. As of May 22, there have been 3,664 laboratory-confirmed flu cases and 21 flu-associated deaths statewide. This is a 95 percent decrease from cumulative count of cases at the end of the 2019-2020 flu season. Influenza A and B were identified by laboratory testing in all 67 counties. The percent of outpatient visits associated with Influenza-Like Illness (ILI) was low and stayed below the state epidemic threshold. A total of 45 influenza associated hospitalizations were reported in Pennsylvania during the current flu season. The full flu report can be found on the 2020-2021 flu season webpage, here.

Additionally, it was reported nationally that the drop of flu cases occurred despite a sixfold increase in testing at public health labs, most of which test for influenza A and B along with COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended health care providers test patients who have COVID-19-like symptoms for both flu and COVID-19, because it is impossible to differentiate between the two viruses without testing, and patients can have both viruses at the same time.

The department’s epidemiologists continue to monitor and compare statewide flu activity with the national flu activity. The CDC reported that seasonal flu activity in the United States remains lower than usual for this time of year. While flu vaccines are not reportable to the department, as of Feb. 12, 2021, the CDC reported 193.8 million doses of flu vaccine have been distributed in the United States. This surpassed the previous record of 174.5 million doses distributed during the 2019-20 flu season. The CDC will update the number of flu vaccines distributed across the country through the end of the flu season.

“While we are highlighting the below average flu activity, we must remember to take similar proven public health measures like washing hands frequently, keeping physical distance and even wearing a mask to minimize the spread of infectious respiratory diseases,” Deputy Secretary of Health Preparedness and Community Protection Ray Barishansky said. “Though the flu season is over, let’s continue to do our part to stop the spread of flu and COVID-19.”

Flu is a contagious disease caused by the influenza virus. It attacks the nose, throat and lungs and may include the following symptoms:

  • Fever;
  • Headache;
  • Tiredness;
  • Dry cough;
  • Sore throat;
  • Nasal congestion; and
  • Body aches.

If you do become sick with the flu, it is imperative that you stay home. If you are at risk for developing serious complications from the flu, or feel extremely ill, you should see a medical professional immediately.

The flu vaccines are available in Pennsylvania as a shot for anyone 6 months or older and as a shot or nasal spray for anyone age 2 or older each year. Flu vaccines were available at doctor’s offices, pharmacies, local clinics or grocery stores through the end of flu season.

Additional information on how to stay healthy and prevent the spread of flu can be found on the Department of Health’s website, Facebook, and Twitter.