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Flu activity has been minimal in the U.S. this winter. David Ryder/Getty Images
  • The United States continues to experience an unusually mild flu season with most states seeing only minimal flu activity.
  • Last year by this time, the flu was widespread in the United States, with more than 9 million reported cases.
  • Some states including Mississippi are experiencing moderate flu activity.

Influenza seems to have taken a back seat during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year by this time, the flu was widespread in 45 states. At that time over 9 million cases had been reported in the United States, and pediatric deaths from the flu had just hit a 17-year high.

This year’s flu season couldn’t be more different.

Though flu is out there in certain states including Mississippi and Texas, the United States continues to experience an unusually mild flu season.

But even in states with minimal activity, the flu is making its rounds.

Most states are reporting minimal flu activity, according to the latest flu report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

However, there are some states reporting more than minimal flu activity.

Mississippi is experiencing moderate flu activity, with most cases occurring in the city of Jackson.

South Carolina and Nevada are reporting higher than minimal activity.

Nevada’s flu vaccination rates are well below the national average.

Currently, estimates predict 21.7 percent of Nevada residents have been vaccinated against the flu. For reference, last year’s national flu vaccination average was around 52 percent.

Texas is also experiencing an uptick in flu activity, according to a flu surveillance map from Walgreens based on prescription data for influenza antiviral medications.

Even in areas experiencing moderate activity, cases are still significantly lower than what’s typically reported in the country.

According to Walgreens’ data, the flu is spreading in counties in Alabama and Georgia.

Two influenza-associated deaths were reported in Georgia last week, and Alabama reported a slight increase in flu cases around the holidays.

Arkansas reported its eighth flu-related death this week. Delaware reported its first flu-related death of the season last week.

The uncharacteristically low levels of flu observed across the country can likely be attributed to the mitigation measures used for COVID-19, said Dr. Scott Kaiser, a board-certified family medicine physician and geriatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.

“Wearing a mask, physical distancing, and washing hands are not only critical to reducing the spread of COVID-19, but protect against the spread of flu as well,” Kaiser said.

In South Carolina, flu activity has been milder than usual. But in its place is the rhinovirus, which causes the common cold.

Dr. Elizabeth Mack, a pediatric critical care physician at Medical University of South Carolina Children’s Health, said she’s seen tons of rhinovirus cases this year, a trend that’s been reported across the country.

Most people who contract rhinovirus will experience a runny nose and cough and be fine, Mack said, but younger children and older adults can be particularly vulnerable.

“It just hits people differently,” Mack said.

Mack has seen several cases of young babies with rhinovirus bronchiolitis. It’s unclear what’s driving this trend, she said.

Some infectious disease experts suspect rhinovirus may be able to help prevent the flu by jumpstarting the immune system.

Recent research from Yale University looked at clinical data from patients with respiratory infections and found that when the common cold was prevalent, flu activity dropped.

If the tissues that line the airways of the lungs were recently exposed to rhinovirus, the flu virus was unable to infect the tissue, according to the Yale study.

It’s unclear how big of a role rhinoviruses have played in this season’s flu activity, and if coronaviruses could have a similar impact.

Co-infections — between rhinoviruses and influenza along with COVID-19 and influenza — are known to occur.

With the flu festering across the country, it’s crucial to continue to play it safe.

The flu typically is full force around now, peaking by February and persisting through the spring.

“It is clear that flu activity is significantly lower at this point compared with last year. That said, flu activity may certainly increase in coming months so now is not the time to let your guard down,” Kaiser said.

And it’s not too late to get a flu shot.

“While it is a little late, if someone is not vaccinated I would certainly recommend that at this point in the season,” Mack said.

Though influenza has taken a back seat to COVID-19 this year, the flu is scattered across the United States.

Data shows the flu is spreading in Texas and Mississippi, and some states including Nevada and South Carolina are experiencing mild activity.

Most states are reporting minimal flu activity.

Flu season usually peaks around February and continues through the spring, so flu experts recommend keeping your guard up and getting the flu shot if you haven’t done so.