EVERYONE ‘knows’ that flu disappeared in the winter of 2020-2021. The popular explanation for this is ‘viral interference’, whereby one virus replaces another in circulation, as often happens with different strains of flu. The assumption is that flu was outcompeted by SARS-CoV-2 and hence largely vanished.
However, the stark juxtaposition of its absence and its replacement by the ‘novel and deadly’ SARS-CoV-2 virus remains an open question, given that flu vanished only from Westernised countries yet remained prevalent in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Haiti and Bangladesh in the winter of 2020/21.
Tracking the prevalence of any virus relies not only the quality and extent of testing, but also on the protocols, procedures and the public health bureaucracy that govern when the test should be administered and how the test result is validated, interpreted and reported. Therefore a systematic assessment of the effects of seemingly unrelated policy decisions is needed to determine whether policies were enacted – wittingly or unwittingly – which brought about a particular result as a kind of ‘spooky action at a distance’ that caused flu to appear to vanish from some countries but not others.
By now we are all familiar with the problems associated with SARS-CoV-2 PCR testing. Ultimately clinical judgement regarding Covid-19 was delegated from the physician to a diagnosis based solely on the PCR test. The possibility of false positives and negatives was entirely absent from clinical decision-making, despite the now well understood issues where false positives can be caused by high cycle thresholds, cross reactivity, and the use of single genes to declare positive results. In other words: ‘it was all about the test’.
If we have good reason to mistrust the testing regime for SARS-CoV-2, why should we trust the testing and surveillance regime used for flu?
Quarantines were promoted as measures to reduce spread of SARS-CoV-2 and are also paradoxically claimed to have prevented the spread of flu (even though they did not prevent transmission of SARS-CoV-2). There is the possibility that what they actually did was dramatically reduce the chance of receiving a positive flu test result. If you don’t have a positive flu result, there was little possibility of being diagnosed with flu in the presence of a contradictory explanation – SARS-CoV-2. Given that PCR tests for SARS-CoV-2 were mandated (when not enthusiastically and voluntarily performed by a populace terrified by propaganda) there was therefore a very high chance of being diagnosed with Covid-19 instead of the flu.
Flu tests are recommended to be administered within four days of symptom onset. If they are administered after four days, they would likely produce a false negative result for someone with flu (flu tests are rarely administered routinely anyway). Mandatory Covid-19 tests, run at high cycle thresholds and suffering from cross-reactivity with other pathogens (amongst other operational issues), may well have resulted in false positives for Covid-19, when in fact the pathogen causing symptoms may have been flu. Therefore, people with flu would have been wrongly categorised as having Covid-19, and as a result quarantined for a period sometimes up to 14 days. Hence any flu test given after quarantine ended would inevitably result in a negative for flu even if that was the causative agent, because it was given later than the four days needed for the flu test to be accurate.
Compared with Covid-19, diagnosing flu ‘out of season’ is fraught with tricky clinical and bureaucratic barriers, which also served to depress the likelihood of reporting flu cases. According to CDC (the US Centers for Disease Control) algorithms for diagnosing flu ‘out of season’, in the event of a positive flu test the clinician is asked to pause and consider if this is a false positive. Furthermore, they also need to justify any decision to support the positive result and diagnose flu with an assessment of whether there is evidence of an epidemiological link between this case and others (i.e. link to existing circulation in the community). Likewise, the clinician would also have to consider the signs and symptoms of flu, but given that these will heavily overlap with Covid, which the authorities are proclaiming as an epidemic, it looks as if the cards are stacked against them.
There is an elegant logical circularity at play here that a physician needs to consider. The CDC say you need an outbreak and an epidemiological link to help justify a positive flu test, but surely you only know there is an outbreak, and can determine an epidemiological link, if you and others, in coordination, have already accumulated enough positive test results. It’s a chicken and egg situation. Who determines whether there is an outbreak? None of the CDC documents says.
Therefore, even if a physician was armed with a positive flu test result the chances of this overruling an all-pervasive prior belief in Covid-19 being the cause of all respiratory illnesses, encouraged by powerful incentives directed by a centralised bureaucracy, would have been close to zero.
In combination it is possible that these primary mechanisms, rather than ‘viral competition’ between flu and SARS-CoV-2 or ‘effective lockdowns’, could partially or wholly account for the disappearance of flu. If flu did not disappear then what might then have been the primary cause of those who died with symptoms of a respiratory virus in 2020/21?
This article is based on an original article co-authored with Professor Norman Fenton and Jonathan Engler. The extended version of the article is available from the substack Where are the Numbers?