While few things about the Covid-19 pandemic have been good, scientists have recently discovered a possible silver lining: public health measures such as physical distancing and mask-wearing may have eliminated two of the most common strains of the flu and made future flu shots easier to make.
Every year, scientists develop a new flu vaccine in an effort to combat the strains of the influenza virus expected to make people ill in the upcoming flu season. As explained by Gizmodo, these flu strains are typically divided into two broad categories, A and B viruses, which are further divided into different groups.
To develop the right type of vaccines, scientists regularly monitor the evolution of the viruses by testing thousands of influenza virus samples from patients. This enables them to predict the likely batch of common strains that will infect people in the coming year and to then create vaccines designed to provide immunity to those strains.
However, since March 2020, researchers whose job it is to monitor the mutating viruses said they haven’t detected traces of two common flu strains, which could mean that both of them have gone extinct. “Just because nobody saw it doesn’t mean it has disappeared completely, right? But it could,” said virologist and flu expert Florian Krammer.
Though not certain, it may be true that the two strains have disappeared since countries all over the world have reported significantly fewer flu cases since the start of the pandemic. There are many reasons for this, but precautions like masking, higher rates of vaccination, and the physical closure of high-risk environments, such as schools, are all believed to have played an important role.
While the extinction of the two strains doesn’t mean that the end of the flu is on the horizon, the situation could make it easier to predict which strains will drive the next flu season, since there will be less flu diversity to worry about.