We have dug into the 2018, 2019, and 2020 reports made available at Flutracking.net. What has become abundantly clear is that every country presents their flu data in slightly different ways. This breakdown is going to be different then our others, simply because I struggled to find the raw data. As a result, we will be comparing the percentage of cough and fever reported by participants during the peak weeks of the “pandemic”, and the difference in the number of influenza cases from 2019-2020.
Three different templates for all three years
In 2018, the numbers of participants reporting cough and fever had to be manually calculated. We also were unable to find the number of lab confirmed influenza cases in this document. The government of Australia doesn’t provide a clear example of the numbers of influenza for this year. We found the remainder of the needed information in an information brief.
In 2019, the template changes again. This year provides the numbers of those who were tested for influenza, yielded positive tests, but also those who were simply diagnosed with influenza.
In 2020, the number of influenza cases again drop off. The template in 2020 shows an extreme favour towards testing for COVID over influenza testing.
Another thing that we found peculiar while researching this story is how some reports were not made available for certain weeks within certain years. This is likely due to reporting procedures and tracking of the data — but regardless, it struck me as odd.
Comparing the years
2018 — The percentage of those reporting cough and fever during this year was lower compared to other years. The number of participants reporting cough and fever as a percentage through weeks 17 through 23 floated around 1.45 per cent to 1.89 per cent of total participants. The data for this year didn’t start until this week, making it difficult to compare this year to 2019 and 2020.
2019 — The government breaks down influenza “positives” into two categories — tested for influenza and diagnosed with influenza. Percentage of those reporting cough and fever during this period fluctuated between 1.4 per cent to 2.1 per cent of total participants depending on the week.
For the sake of comparison, we will show both the tested numbers, and diagnosed numbers for each week in addition to the percentage that reported cough and fever in that week. We will compare the 2019 and 2020 numbers from weeks 15 to 18. We will also show how COVID, although being tested at a much higher amount than influenza, was still much less prevalent in Australia than influenza in these weeks.
The percentages below are representative as a total percentage only of those individuals surveyed who reported cough and fever as symptoms within that time frame.
Week 15 (2020)
Number of participants: 76,012
Participants with cough and fever: 188 (0.2 per cent)
Tested for influenza + percentage and number positive: 7 tested (5 per cent), 2 positive
Tested for COVID and positive: 61 (32.4 per cent) tested, 0 positive cases
Week 15 (2019)
Number of participants: 35,162
Participants with cough and fever: 569 (1.6 per cent)
Tested and positive for influenza: 21 tested (3.7 per cent), 5 positive
Diagnosed influenza + tested for influenza and confirmed combined number: 44 (7.7 per cent) + 5 (3.7 per cent) = 49 (8.61 per cent) of participants reporting cough and fever were diagnosed or tested positive for influenza during week 15.
Compare: 61 COVID tests were performed for this week in 2020 with 0 positives. Only 7 individuals were tested for influenza in 2020, but 2 came back positive. The previous year (2019) shows that there was 49 cases of influenza for the same period . This means there was 47 less cases of influenza in 2020 compared to 2019 (49 vs 2). Although flu numbers certainly fluctuate — they shouldn’t drop this much within a year.
Week 16 (2020)
Number of participants: 76,963
Participants with cough and fever: 140 (0.2 per cent)
Tested for influenza + percentage and number positive: 7 tested, 4 positive
Tested for COVID + positive: 48 (34.3 per cent) tested, 0 positive
Week 16 (2019)
Number of participants: 31,671
Participants with cough and fever: 514 (1.6 per cent)
Tested and positive for influenza: 20 tested (3.9 per cent), 3 positive (0.6 per cent)
Diagnosed influenza + tested and confirmed for influenza combined number: 29 (5.6 per cent) + 3 (0.6 per cent) = 32 (6.8 per cent)
Compare: In 2019, 32 individuals who reported cough and fever were either diagnosed or tested and confirmed to have influenza. This means 6.8 per cent of those surveyed who had symptoms of cough and fever were diagnosed with influenza. In 2020 only 7 individuals with cough and fever were tested for influenza and 4 were positive. For contrast, 48 people were tested for COVID in 2020 and 0 positives returned. This means that in 2020, COVID was tested for 685.71 per cent more than for influenza, still influenza yielded more positives for the same time period (4 vs 0 COVID).
Week 17 (2020)
Number of participants: 75,464
Participants with cough and fever: 160 (0.2 per cent)
Tested for influenza and number positive: 7 tested, 4 positive
Tested for COVID + positive: 71 (44.4 per cent) tested, 1 positive (0.6 per cent)
Week 17 (2019)
Number of participants: 38,478
Participants with cough and fever: 555 (1.4 per cent)
Tested and positive for influenza: 15 tested (2.7 per cent), 8 positive (1.4 per cent) (over 50 per cent of those tested were positive)
Diagnosed influenza — tested and confirmed for influenza combined number: 29 (5.2 per cent) + 8 (1.4 per cent) = 37 (6.6 per cent)
Compare: Although COVID was tested for 473.33 per cent in 2020 more than influenza was in 2019, the flu numbers are still drastically higher (8 positive flu in 2019 vs one positive COVID test in 2020). In 2020, only 7 people were sent off for influenza testing during week 17 yet yielded more positive (4) than COVID testing (one). This is in-spite of the fact that 71 individuals were tested for COVID compared to a meager 7 individuals tested for the flu for the same period.
This begs the question — why continue testing for COVID at such a high rate when testing for influenza in much smaller sample sizes continued to overshadow the COVID numbers as both a percentage and total? Could it be the fear of a “novel” virus? This doesn’t explain why we see the decrease in influenza testing that occurred, or why they didn’t include diagnosed influenza numbers anymore.
Week 18 (2020)
Number of participants: 76,036
Participants with cough and fever: 155(0.2 per cent)
Tested for influenza and number positive: 8 tested, 2 positive
Tested for COVID + positive: 59 (38.1 per cent) tested, 1 positive (0.6 per cent)
Week 18 (2019)
Number of participants: 38,992
Participants with cough and fever: 527(1.4 per cent)
Tested and positive for influenza: 29 tested (5.5 per cent), 13 positive (2.5 per cent)
Diagnosed influenza + tested and confirmed for influenza combined number: 49(9.3 per cent) + 13(2.5 per cent) = 62(11.8 per cent)
Compare: Although COVID was tested for 737.5 per cent more in 2020 than influenza was in week 18, there were still more cases of influenza than there was COVID — (two vs one). Overall, 2019 had 60 more cases of influenza in week 18 than in 2020.
This again begs the question of where did the flu go in 2020? Why did the Australian government take away diagnosed influenza as a descriptor in 2020? Was it to make influenza appear like less of a threat so that COVID could appear like more of one?