Health experts predict Arizona will see the worst flu season in years

KOLD News 10-10:30 p.m. recurring
Published: Sep. 28, 2022 at 10:26 AM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Flu season is almost here and with the COVID pandemic seeming to taper off, health officials across the country and in Arizona are saying it could be a bad one.

The 2019 - 2020 season saw nearly 36,500 laboratory-confirmed cases. That’s more than 10,000 cases higher than the five-year average.

Then came COVID, with a lot more hand washing and mandatory masking. Arizona saw its number of confirmed flu cases plummet to just over 1,100.

Last year, as mandates started to ease, the case count jumped back up to more than 18,000.

According to the State Department of Health Services, that’s a nearly 1,500% increase from the previous season.

We’ve had very mild flu seasons the last couple of years during the pandemic because more people were wearing masks and there were fewer social gatherings. Now that those efforts are gone, the flu virus is going to spread more easily and that’s already what we’re seeing in the Southern Hemisphere.

“We’re anticipating a bigger flu season, more infectiveness of the virus itself as well as more spread within the community,” said pediatrician Dr. Sandy Herron.

Data from the Southern Hemisphere shows they had a three to five times higher number of flu cases than normal. Health experts use that data to predict what will happen here in Arizona. Herron said she’s expecting to see more sick kids in her office this year with the flu.

“We admit kids for influenza because of dehydration, because of secondary pneumonia, and because of the cardiac side effects of flu. We have many patients who have had myocarditis related to influenza,” she said.

Her office is watching all age groups, but especially the under-1 group and the under-5 group. She’s also seeing vaccination rates drop at her office.

She said, “The less people who are vaccinated, the more influenza is going to be running through the community, the more risk that is to everyone.”

With little to no mitigation efforts, there’s also a concern the winter could bring more cases of COVID-19 and it could be a “twindemic” both with coronavirus and influenza.

″We really hope that we don’t see a strong presence of COVID and influenza at the same time because we don’t want to see a strain on our health care systems,” said epidemiologist with the Pima County Health Department, Matthew Christenberry.

The symptoms are very similar and the only way to really know whether you have the flu or COVID-19 is to test.

He said, ″We’re going to see with both of them you can have fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose. Generally, with flu you could have more of some body aches and muscle aches and those types of things.”

Doctors say the best time to get the vaccine is right now. It will take two weeks for your body to respond to the vaccine and then it will last in your body for 40 weeks.

You can find more details about the flu vaccine and where to get it here.