By Andria Borba

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — All of that mask wearing, hand washing and social distancing is not only paying dividends in reducing the spread of COVID-19, but may have another silver lining, in flu season.

“If we’re social distancing the way we’ve been ordered to social distance, I suspect the flu won’t be as contagious as it is in past years,” said Shirin Djavaheri of San Francisco.

Researchers say that assumption is proving correct. “We think it’s probably making a big difference. One of the things we do when we’re thinking what our influenza season is gonna look like is we actually look at what the influenza season was like in the Southern Hemisphere,” said Dr. Hayden Schwenk, clinical associate professor at Stanford Medical School.

Data show historically low rates of influenza coming out of southern hemisphere countries such as Australia, Chile and South Africa, which are coming out of winter when flu is most likely to spread.

“We think the same principles apply. Those masks that we’re wearing for COVID-19 are probably helping prevent the transmission of influenza and other respiratory viruses,” Schwenk told KPIX 5.

That could at least partially be explained by how the two diseases are transmitted. “The transmission is really pretty much the same. The most common transmission for both of these viruses is going to be droplet transmission that happens in the context of close contact – so being within 6 feet of another person who has the infection.”

But, Dr. Schwenk says it’s more important than ever to get your flu shot, because the symptoms of influenza and COVID-19 are so similar. “To try to decrease any potential strains on the health care system – we want to reduce the number of people who are coming in with influenza and the best way to do that is via the influenza vaccine.”

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