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Coronavirus may cause a milder flu season in Arizona

PHOENIX — Arizona could experience a milder flu season but only if people continue to practice some of the same healthy habits to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

“In those areas that do tend to wear masks out in public and get flu vaccines and do all the things that public health officials tell us are important to do, I think we’ll see dramatically decreased influenza in those cases,” Dr. Gregory Poland, an infectious disease expert with the Mayo Clinic, said during a press conference Friday.

Poland said people who wear a face mask, practice good hand hygiene and avoid large crowds as a way to protect themselves from getting COVID-19 are inadvertently also protecting themselves from the flu.

He pointed to the Southern Hemisphere, which is ending its winter season, as an example of how mitigation efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have led to significantly fewer cases of the flu.

A new report released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted there has been “little influenza activity” in the Southern Hemisphere.

In the United States, circulation of the flu virus declined sharply in the first two weeks of the government declaring a national emergency in March, the report noted.

“If extensive community mitigation measures continue throughout the fall, influenza activity in the United States might remain low and the season might be blunted or delayed,” CDC researchers said in the report.

Poland stressed without “non-pharmaceutical interventions” such as wearing a face mask and getting a flu vaccine, it’s possible the community could face a “twindemic.”

“That is the idea that we would have at least two viruses causing an epidemic and a pandemic, respectively influenza and COVID,” he said.

He added a “twindemic” could overwhelm the health care system.

That’s also a concern for Arizona Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ.

“Every flu season, our hospitalizations increase due to influenza,” Christ said during a press conference earlier this month. “Getting your flu shot will help prevent hospitalizations from influenza, keeping more hospital beds open.”

The AZDHS rolled out the “Roll Up Your Sleeve” campaign at the beginning of September to encourage people — especially health care workers, families with young children, college students and vulnerable adults — to get the flu shot as soon as possible.

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