Maybe the measures people are taking to prevent the spread of Coronavirus are helping protect against the flu, too!

As Coronavirus becomes a more serious concern every day, efforts to prevent widespread outbreak in Japan has led to popular conventions being cancelled, tourist spots being shut down, and even a call for schools to close nationwide. But bleak as the situation may be, there might actually be something good that has come of it: a drastic decrease in influenza cases nationwide.

Japanese Twitter user Kotori (@kotoRichan_P) pointed out an interesting correlation between the rise of Coronavirus and the decrease of influenza in a series of tweets. Apparently around this time last year, there were almost three times as many cases of influenza than this year, according to a chart they shared from news site FNN Prime.

The chart shows that while there were 214,592 people infected with influenza by the fifth week of 2019, there have only been 70,076 people in the same period of this year, which is the lowest in ten years. Even in 2015, which is the period with the second lowest number of cases shown on the chart, there were still over 144,000 people infected with influenza, more than double the amount this year.

Kotori also shared these maps from the Japanese National Institute of Infectious Diseases. They show the prevalence of influenza in each prefecture during the sixth week of the year in both 2020 and 2019. The darker the red color, the stronger the warning; in other words, in that prefecture at that time, there were a great number of cases and the risk of infection was high.

As you can see, during this time of year last year, almost the entirety of Japan was at the highest warning level, but this year most of the prefectures were at the lowest warning level, and some are even at the yellow “advisory” level. That seems to indicate that influenza is not spreading anywhere near as much in 2020 as it has in past years.

But what does that have to do with Coronavirus? Well, in the first tweet shared above, Kotori posed an interesting hypothesis:

“Since there’s been an unfamiliar new virus going around, the people who are normally sloppy about preventing the spread of colds have been diligently gargling, washing their hands, and wearing masks, which means that this year has seen the lowest number of cases of influenza infections in ten years. It’s such an accomplishment. So I thought up a new way to promote good health in the country: make up a new fake infectious disease outbreaks every year so that people will always be careful.”

Essentially, Kotori is saying that, even though influenza infects hundreds of thousands more people every year than Coronavirus has since it first appeared, people weren’t properly protecting themselves against it until the Coronavirus came about. 

Of course, though the data correlates, it does not necessarily mean that Japanese hygiene was lacking before the onset of Coronavirus, but Kotori does rule out some other factors. For example, the flu virus lives longer in winter when the air is dry, so one netizen proposed that the reason that influenza nay not be as prominent this year is perhaps because temperatures may be warmer this year than last year. However, according to weather data, 2009 and 2006 have some of the highest record temperatures in February, and those years had many more cases of influenza.

Kotori was also keen to add that washing your hands regularly, gargling, and wearing masks have all been touted by Japanese doctors and health specialists as effective flu prevention measures, so it may be true that the Japanese people’s attempts to prevent the spread of Coronavirus may have had an unexpected extra benefit.

Still, Japanese netizens were pretty surprised to find out that their fellow citizens had not been following proper sanitation measures:

“I want to laugh and cry at the same time. Well, I guess this shows that if people actually properly wash their hands we really can prevent the spread of influenza (thumbs up)”
“I’ve always thought we should all be this careful all the time.”
“This makes me wonder how many people were not washing their hands…”
“Maybe if we listed the number of deaths from influenza every year and every day on the news…”

Regardless of the reason why influenza is on the low, we can only hope that those numbers stay down, and that the measures people are taking to stay healthy will also keep Coronavirus well contained. We don’t want to miss any more big conventions…and after all the hype that’s been built up for 2020 Tokyo Olympics, we would hate to see it canceled!

Sources: FNN Prime, National Institute of Infectious Diseases, Japan Meteorological Association via Twitter/@kotoRichan_P via Hamster Sokuho
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert image: Pakutaso