At the beginning of the pandemic, the percentage of specimens testing positive for the flu dropped to historically low levels.

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – A bright side to the pandemic: we could have a lighter flu season. Experts say because we’re washing our hands more, wearing masks and staying socially distant, we could end up with fewer cases of the flu this year.

“I think it is possible, and I’m really kind of hoping for it,” says Dr. Randolph Peters, a primary care internist with the Allegheny Health Network.

Researchers looked at the end of last year’s flu season in the U.S.

“In the last few years, we’ve been seeing a lot more flu going into the later months. Normally, it’s done by March,” Dr. Peters says.

But this past March — the beginning of the pandemic — the percentage of specimens testing positive for flu dropped to historically low levels from 20 percent to 2 percent.

“The flu cases just dropped off a cliff.”

In the Southern Hemisphere, the rate of positives was less than a percent, compared to 13 percent for the same time period in previous years.

“It was spectacular. It really was a dramatic decrease,” he says.

To Dr. Peters, that’s a good sign: “I’m cautiously hopeful.”

But human behavior is the wild card.

“We can’t afford to get complacent. A lot of it’s going to depend on people being strict with their social distancing and their masking. In this country, we don’t always seem to be on board with public health guidelines lately,” says Dr. Peters. “We haven’t previously been recommending masking for influenza, but maybe we should.”

He still stands by flu shots, whether a season may be heavy or light, especially this year.

“We need all the protection we can. I don’t know if there’s going to be a twindemic, but if you do happen to get them both at the same time, it’s really bad, and you want to avoid both of them,” Dr. Peters says. “We see that wave that’s rushing toward the shore, it’s not as big as we thought, but that doesn’t mean we should eat lunch and go swimming without a life preserver.”

Life preservers being masks, distance, hand washing and flu shots.