A “Twindemic:” State leaders, health professionals share concern as flu season, COVID-19 are set to collide

KOLD 10 p.m. Aug. 31 Part 1

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - There’s a new push to get Arizonans vaccinated as the flu season is set to complicate how the state has navigated, so far, through the coronavirus pandemic.

”Flu season is just around the corner and Arizona isn’t taking any chances,” said Governor Doug Ducey. “With public health and healthcare resources already focused on responding to COVID-19, preventing the flu is more important than ever.”

Health experts say getting a flu shot is the single best way to prevent contracting it.

Every year in Arizona, on average:

- 5% - 20% of the population gets the flu.

- More than 4,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications.

- About 700 people die from flu.

“Having flu season upon us, there could be a twindemic, where someone gets the flu and someone gets COVID at the same time and we don’t really know what the medical implications are if someone if is infected by both viruses,” SOT Dr. Natasha Bhuyan, Family Physician in Phoenix.

Dr. Bhuyan said there is not enough research just yet to determine how someone’s immune system will be able to fight off COVID-19 and influenza at the same time. That is coupled with the concern that flu cases could cripple an already exhausted healthcare system.

“Every flu season we see an uptick in primary care visits, ER visits, hospital utilization and ICU utilization,” said Dr. Bhuyan. “So even if we just have a moderate increase in flu cases this year, we could end up straining our healthcare resources.”

“We recommend that everyone get it right away,” said Dr. Cara Christ, Director of the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Gov. Ducey announced an increased vaccine stock and expanded access to, what will be in some cases, free flu shots for the uninsured and underinsured. He said he didn’t want a cost to be the barrier to getting vaccinated.

The state also announced some COVID-19 testing sites will start offering flu shots, as early as this September.

An increased vaccine stock... and expanded access to - free- shots for the uninsured and underinsured.

Soon, you will see some COVID-19 testing sites through the state offering both.

“Every year, about 45-percent of Americans get the flu vaccine. I would love to see that number closer to over 80-percent of Americans”

The silver lining, said Dr. Bhuyan, is the simple health practices Arizonans are already taking to slow the spread of COVID-19 would also help slow the spread of the flu.

“Hand hygiene, wearing a mask, physically distancing from others,” said Dr. Bhuyan.

While the vaccine won’t prevent you from getting the flu, it will help with decreasing the severity of symptoms. Symptoms, shared by both viruses, like a cough or fever, that will need to be seriously monitored over the next several months.

“Every year, when someone gets flue symptoms or cold symptoms, they have a cough, they might not be feeling great, people still go to work, they are still out and about still with a cough,” said Dr. Bhuyan. “It is critical this year, if we have any is any symptoms what so ever, we stay home. Because, we don’t know if we have the common cold, we don’t know if we have the flu and we don’t know if we have COVID.”

According to AZDHS, an online “Vaccine Finder” will be available soon.

Fact Finders: Questions surrounding the flu vaccine

- Will I get the flu if I get the vaccine?

Dr. Bhuyan said that is not true, as the vaccine does not cause the flu.

- I have a severe egg allergy so I can’t get the flu.

Dr. Bhuyan said there are many types of vaccines available, including an egg-free vaccine and some preservative-free options.

- Should I get multiple doses of the vaccine?

Dr. Christ said it is recommended that individuals do not get several doses of the flu vaccine.

- If I get the vaccine now, will it last through the season?

Dr. Christ, health professionals and state leaders say it is not too early to get the vaccine.

Copyright 2020 KOLD News 13. All rights reserved.