Flu season

Health officials urged people to get the flu vaccine in response to unexpectedly high cases of seasonal illness.

Pima County has two "mu variant" COVID cases and 150 influenza cases, said County Public Health Director Dr. Theresa Cullen at a press conference on Wednesday.

Cullen said "mu" has been deemed a “variant of interest” by the Centers for Disease Control. The Delta variant is the most prolific variant in the United States and is labeled a “variant of concern” by the CDC. 

Cullen qualified the number flu cases, saying the number is probably higher because most people won’t get tested and will get treatment before a case can be reported. 

“As we enter this flu season, we remain concerned that we will see an acceleration of the cases compared with last year, it's important for people to remember that you could get COVID and influenza at the same time,” Cullen said.

She recommended that Pima County residents get COVID and flu vaccines in the next two months to prepare for winter viruses. Flu vaccines are readily available throughout Tucson at local pharmacies and grocery stores.

Parents should also be aware of the respiratory syncytial virus. Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Marjorie Bessel at Banner Health said RSV hospitalizations and ER visits have increased rapidly in the past four days.

“As a reminder, this is an unseasonable spike. Typically, RSV is not a big concern during summer months,” Bessel said.

RSV has symptoms similar to a cold, such as fever, runny nose and wheezing. Most adults overcome RSV within a week, according to the CDC, but it can be dangerous for children. RSV can lead to more dangerous respiratory infections like bronchiolitis and pneumonia.

“We know that respiratory-type viruses and illnesses often circulate when we are together, when we are indoors and have our masks off. So certainly, as we begin to emerge out of some of the behaviors that we put into place during COVID we might see a rise in viral illnesses,” Bessel said.

Parents who think their children might have RSV are asked to get them tested. RSV and COVID have similar symptoms and children can be infected by both.

Bessel said they are watching closely for multiple infections in pediatric patients.

“Currently, only 5% of our pediatric COVID patients are also testing positive for RSV,” Bessel continued, “this is quite different than what some hospitals are seeing in other parts of the country like Texas, where about half of their pediatric COVID patients are also testing positive for RSV.”

In both press conferences, health officials made it clear that adults who have children or have close proximity with children should get the COVID vaccine to protect kids under 12. The COVID vaccines have yet to be FDA approved for children under 12. 

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