Flu deaths aren’t being miscategorised as Covid-19 deaths

27 January 2021
What was claimed

A post claims influenza has been eradicated and seems to suggest this is suspicious.

Our verdict

While there appears to be very few flu infections due to various reasons, the flu has not been eradicated. Covid-19 deaths are not miscategorised flu deaths.

A post shared on Facebook shows the number of positive influenza tests for each week from 2015 to 2020, using legitimate graphs from the World Health Organisation (WHO). 

The graph for 2020 shows the number of positive influenza tests falling to near zero in around week 14 and not really increasing since, with the post commenting “Influenza, finally eradicated.”

The account behind the post has also posted various antivax misinformation and suggestions that the Covid-19 epidemic is less serious than it is. 

Given that, it appears the claim that influenza has been finally eradicated is not meant to be taken seriously and could suggest that flu cases are being mislabelled as Covid-19 cases. Many of the comments on the post suggest this is how it has been interpreted.

Firstly it’s worth noting that while we seem to be having a very mild flu season, the flu has not been eradicated. 

The latest data from the WHO shows flu cases starting to increase in the late autumn of 2020. While the number has dropped off recently, this could be due to reporting delays.

There are various reasons why the flu season appears to have been so mild last year. For one, the flu vaccination rate in England is at its highest level ever. Also, efforts to reduce the spread of Covid-19, such as increased handwashing and reduced movement, may have also reduced flu transmission. And people’s willingness to seek medical care for the flu may have been reduced due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

It’s also not plausible that what are being termed Covid-19 cases are actually flu cases and, by implication, that flu deaths are being mislabelled as Covid-19 deaths. 

In 2017/18, the worst flu season over the past five years, there were around 22,000 deaths in England associated with flu. 

By comparison, there have been 78,811 deaths so far from Covid-19 in England and Wales. These are deaths where a medical practitioner has determined that the underlying cause of death was Covid-19, as opposed to other statistics which report the number of deaths of people with Covid-19 or who died within 28 days of a positive test.

This article is part of our work fact checking potentially false pictures, videos and stories on Facebook. You can read more about this—and find out how to report Facebook content—here. For the purposes of that scheme, we’ve rated this claim as partly false because the flu hasn’t been eradicated, though there are good reasons for why this year’s flu season is so mild.

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