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Assessing the interactions between COVID-19 and influenza in the United States.

Abstract

The 2019-2020 influenza sentinel surveillance data exhibits unexpected trends. Typical influenza seasons have a small herald wave, followed by a decrease due to school closure during holidays, and then a main post-holiday peak that is significantly larger than the pre-holiday wave. During the 2019-2020 influenza season, influenza-like illness data in the United States appears to have a markedly lower main epidemic peak compared to what would be expected based on the pre-holiday peak. We hypothesize that the 2019-2020 influenza season does have a lower than expected burden and that this deflation is due to a behavioral or ecological interaction with COVID-19. We apply an intervention analysis to assess if this influenza season deviates from expectations, then we compare multiple hypothesized drivers of the decrease in influenza in a spatiotemporal regression model. Lastly, we develop a mechanistic metapopulation model, incorporating transmission reduction that scales with COVID-19 risk perception. We find that the 2019-2020 ILI season is smaller and decreases earlier than expected based on prior influenza seasons, and that the increase in COVID-19 risk perception is associated with this decrease. Additionally, we find that a 5% average reduction in transmission is sufficient to reproduce the observed flu dynamics. We propose that precautionary behaviors driven by COVID-19 risk perception or increased isolation driven by undetected COVID-19 spread dampened the influenza season. We suggest that when surveillance for a novel pathogen is limited, surveillance streams of co-circulating infections may provide a signal.

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