The "twin-demic" health officials were worried about back in the fall of last year is not happening right now.
“We haven’t seen yet at this point anyone coming in with SARS-COVID-2 and the influenza virus,” says infectious disease expert Dr. Wassim Ballan from Phoenix Children’s hospital.
Right now is the typical "height" of the flu season. The latest data from the Arizona Department of Health Services show that in 2020, the last week of January in Arizona saw 2,819 confirmed flu cases. That number is just under 20 for the same week in 2021. In other words, this is the worst time of the year for flu cases in Arizona cases, but right now we are down 95% compared to last year.
“It’s a pleasant surprise but it doesn't mean that we can put the guards down yet,” adds Dr. Ballan. He attributes the 95% decrease in flu cases to two major interventions: COVID-19 prevention measures such as mask-wearing, social distancing, routinely washing hands and the flu vaccine push by state health officials in August 2020.
"As a public health professional and as a physician and a mom, influenza is one of those things that scares me the most. It can spread quickly, it can cause complications, and in some cases, it can be fatal,” said Dr. Cara Christ back on August 31, 2020, during an influenza press briefing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The success we have seen in keeping influenza at such low numbers comes with a warning from Dr. Ballan.
“Even though so far we have not seen a lot of influenza, that doesn’t mean that in the next month or two we are not going to see an increase in those numbers,” adds Dr. Ballan.
With the current pandemic and sick people staying home to prevent the spread of COVID-19 comes the prevention of spreading the flu. That was the case for Jennifer Marie of Mesa who thought she had coronavirus, took a test, and quarantined.
“We just assumed that it was the flu due to the fact that the COVID test was negative,” said Jennifer during her quarantine period at home.
The worry for health experts at the beginning of the flu season was having a patient infected with both influenza and COVID-19.
“We do know the two viruses could potentially put a huge strain on a patient's body,” says Dr. Ballan, who says he has yet to see the "twin-demic" happen. None of his patients have come in sick with both viruses.
“I'm not matching both viruses, but they both have the same modes of transmission in terms of droplets and being transmitted from one person who is sick to another,” he adds.
The RSV cases have also come to almost a complete pause in Arizona with only four confirmed cases the last week of January.