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Scientists believe that the COVID-19 pandemic safety measures such as masking and social distancing might have inadvertently resulted in several flu strains going extinct.
Since March 2020, researchers haven’t detected two previously common strains of the flu, according to Gizmodo. More specifically, the strains that are “missing” are the Yamagata lineage of influenza B, and the 3c3 clade of the influenza A H3N2 virus.
The disappearance of the strains is a part of the broader trend of flu cases plummeting during the pandemic. Many researchers attribute the rise of mask-wearing, social distancing, and lockdowns as reasons for the flu’s overall dormancy, according to Gizmodo.
However, there’s a catch: Even though scientists haven’t detected the strains in more than a year (and are hopeful they’re extinct), they caution that they still might be out there.
“Just because nobody saw it doesn’t mean it has disappeared completely, right? But it could,” said Florian Krammer, a virologist at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, to STAT News.
Even if the strains aren’t extinct, their disappearance does make developing flu vaccines easier for scientists. That’s because each year, researchers are tasked with essentially making educated guesses about what flu strains are going to be a problem months in advance, according to NPR.
With two common strains out of the equation, it makes the decision of which ones to focus on much easier for vaccine developers.
One thing that’s for sure is that there’s good reason to keep on wearing masks even when the pandemic is over — especially since there’s so much evidence that shows its efficacy in stopping the spread of airborne viruses like the flu.
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