The precautions people are taking to avoid COVID-19 appear to be slowing the spread of the flu across the U.S. and Arizona.
According to the latest figures available from the Arizona Department of Health Services, labs had confirmed only 834 cases of the flu through Feb. 6 compared to 22,368 at this point last year and the five-year average of 12,921.
During the week of Jan. 31-Feb. 6, only 10 people caught the flu statewide compared to 3,173 last year and the five-year average of 1,541.
Five of the 815 flu patients reside in Graham County. So far, Greenlee County hasn’t seen any flu cases.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, somewhere between 9.3 million and 45 million people get the flu every year. Flu kills anywhere between 12,000 and 61,000 people a year and puts anywhere between 140,000 and 810,000 into the hospital.
According to the CDC, only 155 flu patients have landed in the hospital so far this year. In addition, only one child has died of the flu so far, compared to 78 at this time last year.
Over 27 million Americans have caught COVID-19 since Jan. 21, 2020 and 466,465 have died while battling the virus, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
Roland Knox, chief executive officer of Mt. Graham Regional Medical Center, said his staff definitely sees a correlation between COVID-19 precautions and the flu numbers.
“Influenza is spread via droplets person to person, so actions like wearing a face covering and performing proper hand hygiene go a long way in reducing the spread of influenza,” Knox said.
However, just because you’re wearing a face mask doesn’t mean you should skip a flu shot, he said.
“One of the best protections from influenza and reducing the transmission of influenza to another person is through a flu shot immunization,” Knox said. “While numbers are not exact, we have heard anecdotal reports of a number of persons choosing to receive the flu shot to reduce the risk of having influenza and COVID disease. This corresponds with findings published by the CDC that shows 35% of survey respondents reported being more likely to get an influenza vaccine this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Flu numbers may be small now, but we’re not out of the woods, Knox said.
The peak influenza season lasts from October to April in the northern hemisphere, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has noticed that in counties that have eased back on their COVID-19 strategies or don’t use them consistently, the number of flu cases have increased.
“Because of this, we should still be on the lookout for flu and take protective measures, such as a flu shot if not already done this season and proper hand hygiene,” Knox said.
As of Thursday morning, Arizona has recorded 791,106 cases of COVID-19 and 14,662 deaths. Nearly 5,200 of the COVID-19 patients are Graham County residents and 538 are Greenlee County residents.
Graham County has lost 68 residents to the virus and Greenlee County, six.