It's definitely not the most wonderful time of the year.
The flu and respiratory syncytial virus are spiking the number of respiratory illness cases in Arizona. Despite overall rates dropping from their peaks in December, flu and RSV cases are still far greater and contributing to more hospital visits than past flu seasons.
The outlier is COVID-19, which is at its lowest level of cases in the state since the pandemic but still contributing to a tougher than average flu season.
“We’re definitely seeing an uptick in patients coming in with respiratory complaints,” said Samia Kadri, a lead family nurse practitioner at Banner Urgent Care, in a press release.
The flu season started on Oct. 1.
Meghan Dooley, a spokesperson for Banner Health, said the health network has seen an increase in the number of respiratory illness cases. But she said Banner also used data from the Arizona Department of Health Services to confirm that the increase in flu and RSV across the state align with what health care professionals are seeing at Banner's urgent care facilities and hospitals.
Flu cases are “widespread” right now in the county, according to the Maricopa County Department of Public Health, and the number of cases is greater than last season and the five-year average. Cases of RSV are up 158% from last year and 326% from the five-season average, according to the county.
Across Arizona, the number of flu cases is 160% greater than it is during a typical flu season, according to the state health department.
The CDC, which tracks national trends, noted the combined rates of all three main respiratory illnesses are "high" across the state. For the week ending on Jan. 6, about 7.6% of emergency room visits were for flu, RSV or COVID-19, compared to 5.1% for the same week in 2023.
Nationally, the CDC reported that wastewater testing indicates COVID-19 infections are higher than this time last year. Even so, the organization said people are seeking less treatment for serious complications from the virus.
Banner Health recommended that anyone older than 6 months should get updated COVID and flu shots. It added that those older than age 65 should receive a high-dose flu vaccine since they are at higher risk for developing pneumonia or other serious complications.
Kadri also offered some practical advice.
“If you're feeling sick or have a fever, it’s best to stay home. You should also avoid crowds and wear a mask around others. If your symptoms continue, we recommend that you seek medical care," she said.