BULLHEAD CITY — The flu may not be as prevalent nor as deadly as COVID-19, but it is a public health concern nonetheless.
“If you get it, whether it’s COVID or influenza, it can be bad,” said Jessica Ashmore, of Family Care Home Health and Hospice, one of the participating agencies in a drive-through flu shot clinic in Bullhead City Friday and Saturday.
“You don’t want either one. It’s a matter of staying safe and healthy,” added Michelle Vo, a pharmacist at Deeflat Pharmacy in Bullhead City, another sponsor of the clinic that was held in the parking lot of News West Publishing both mornings.
With COVID-19 grabbing everyone’s attention, the flu isn’t foremost in many people’s minds. And uncertainty about when a COVID-19 vaccine will be available — and how effective it will be — has carried over into the flu vaccine discussion.
Every influenza season is unique with variation in the number of cases reported, timing of the season, and circulating strains. That is why vaccines are developed and refined each year, to adjust to particular strains that are — or are expected to be — prevalent. And that is why federal, state and county health agencies recommend a flu shot on an annual basis.
“Everyone has a choice (about getting a flu shot),” Ashmore said. “We try to explain the risks of getting it or not getting it.”
According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, an estimated 5% to 20% of Arizonans get the flu each year — cases have been above 20,000 in four of the last 10 years and topped 36,000 in the 2019-20 season. About 700 people die annually from flu or its complications.
In Mohave County, there have been more than 1,200 flu cases in the 2019-20 season, according to statistics provided by the Arizona Department of Health Services. In the 2018-19 flu season, there were 86 flu-related deaths in the county.
While those numbers aren’t as large as those attributed to COVID-19 — more than 212,000 cases and 5,400 deaths in Arizona and more than 3,700 cases and 200 deaths in Mohave County — they still are significant.
Flu numbers, while not totally preventable, can be mitigated by getting flu shots and following other medical advice. Many of the same recommendations for slowing the spread of COVID-19 also apply to slowing the spread of influenza: staying home when ill, social distancing and personal hygiene such as frequent hand-washing.
Flu vaccines are not 100% effective, partly because they are designed to promote immunity to specific strains. But for many people, a flu shot can help build immunity against the virus or lessen its impact.
“They can reduce your recovery time,” Vo pointed out. “What might take three or four days may take only one.”
At Thursday’s meeting of the Mohave County Board of Supervisors, Sup. Buster Johnson asked Mohave County Department of Public Health Director Denise Burley if residents should get a flu shot as the fall — and the traditional start of flu season — approaches.
“We really encourage people and recommend that individuals get flu shots moving forward, especially in light of the fact that we continue to be addressing the COVID issues in our community,” Burley said. “Combining that with flu season could make it more problematic, not just for individuals, but for hospitals moving forward as well, increasing hospitalizations and overwhelming our health care system.
“So, we encourage people and recommend these flu shots.”
That sentiment is shared by the state health department.
“The single best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccination,” the ADHS said on its website (azdhs.gov). “ADHS and CDC recommend a yearly flu vaccine as the first and most important step in protecting against flu viruses.”
Flu shots are available at many area pharmacies, medical facilities and health care provider offices. Some require appointments while others do not, although appointments are recommended.
Ashmore noted the advantage of events like the one conducted by Family Care and Deeflat.
“It takes five minutes,” she said. “It’s very convenient, especially for busy people and for families.”
She said one group of five completed the process “from paperwork to getting the vaccine” in a total of 15 minutes.
“A lot of people don’t want to have to wait an hour at their doctor’s office,” she said.