Flu Arizona

Matt Maurer, the epidemiologist for Coconino County, holds a vial of influenza vaccine at the county health department in Flagstaff. The county, just like the rest of the state, has seen a spike in flu cases and it has overwhelmed some providers.

FLORENCE — Influenza activity remains high in Pinal County, health officials say.

Pinal County has confirmed 671 cases of influenza. The age group most affected is 5 to 18 years old, followed by 19 to 49 years old. This season, influenza B is responsible for 80% of Pinal County cases.

The Pinal County Health District recommends that everyone get vaccinated.

“It is not too late to get your flu shot. CDC predicts that national influenza activity will remain high for at least several more weeks,” Pinal County Health said in a press release. “You and your family members can go to any Pinal County health clinic and receive the vaccine.”

The county’s 11 clinic locations are in Casa Grande, Eloy, Maricopa, Apache Junction, Kearny, Mammoth, Oracle, San Manuel, San Tan Valley, Coolidge and Superior.

“You can’t be overly cautious,” said Dr. Trish Perl, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. “But you have to be smart. A lot of people don’t recognize how serious the flu can be.”

During the last flu season — October 2018 through early May 2019 — at least 37.4 million people got the flu. Of those, at least 531,000 were hospitalized and between 36,400 and 61,200 people died, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The risk may be particularly acute when it comes to the heart.

A 2018 study in the New England Journal of Medicine indicated the incidence of heart attack was six times higher within a week of being diagnosed with the flu compared to the year before or after the infection.

“The data are becoming more and more compelling that the flu vaccine prevents cardiovascular events as well as mortality, especially for people over 65,” Perl said.

Several factors make the flu virus a particularly formidable foe, she said. It can be transmitted through the air, survive on some surfaces up to 48 hours “and survive on a hand that’s not washed for up to an hour.”

Those characteristics make hand sanitizers and disinfecting wipes key allies during flu season.

“Most common illnesses are spread by your hands,” said Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona who has spent a career tracking germs everywhere from toilet seats and airplane trays to computer touchscreens and hotel TV remote controls. “Hand hygiene is the most important thing you can do for yourself.”

He advocates washing hands or using sanitizer when coming home after a day of touching the germ-ridden world.