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Ask the expert: Managing flu season in Arizona as COVID-19 cases rise

When it comes to flu shots, Dr. Marvasti says they're just as important now as ever before. "There’s even more reason to get as much immunity as we can."

ARIZONA, USA — As COVID-19 cases rise in Arizona and across the country, another threat looms large as we head into flu season.

Team 12's Erica Stapleton spoke with Dr. Farshad Marvasti about what you should know to prepare for both.

Q: What are the risks?

"If you are elderly and have a chronic disease, that means you have double the chances of getting hospitalized," Marvasti explained.

He says flu and COVID-19 are both spread the same way - through respiratory droplets in the air and on surfaces.  That also means you can stop the spread the same way.

"Both can be prevented by wearing masks, keeping distance, by washing hands and cleaning surfaces," he said.

Q: What is each infection like?

"COVID-19 is much more contagious than the flu," Marvasti said.

He explains COVID-19 symptoms can show up 5-14 days after you've been exposed and there's a chance you can spread even if you don't have symptoms.

"Versus flu, you’re usually not infectious unless you have symptoms and symptoms usually come up within 1-4 days."

Q: Other countries have seen a milder flu season this year. Is there any truth to that?

Marvasti says the southern hemisphere has seen a milder flu season likely because of all the measures in place to stop the spread of COVID-19.  But as cases trend upward in Arizona and across the nation, he says the our trends might prove to be different.

"It seems we haven’t done enough in mitigation efforts so it seems we might not be spared in the same way that the Southern Hemisphere was."

Marvasti adds that the fatality rate for COVID-19 is higher than the flu at 2.5-3%, versus a .7-.8% for the flu.

Q: What should you keep in mind for the holidays?

"If you do anything for the holidays, really try to do things outdoors as opposed to indoors," Marvasti said. "We know there’s a huge different in spread between indoor and outdoor activities even if you’re wearing masks."

In addition to gathering outdoors, he recommends keeping a safe distance with older people and those with chronic illnesses.  The guidance goes for COVID-19 and flu, as well.

Q: Should people get their flu shots?

"Absolutely," Marvasti said. "There’s even more reason to get as much immunity as we can. Improving our odds so we’re not sick for any reason and setting us up for worse outcomes."

Q: How are health care providers planning for both?

"Hospital administration and physicians doing all they can to put all those pieces in place," Marvasti said. 

"There’s only so much planning healthcare providers can do. When you get people sick from COVID-19 and flu and on top of that you have your regular emergencies...and there’s not beds available it becomes an issue. Similar to where we were over the summer. We don’t want it to get there."

Dr. Shad is a Stanford trained physician, medical educator, clinical researcher, public speaker, and author with recognized expertise in Public Health, Prevention, Wellness, Integrative Medicine, the use of Food as Medicine, Diabetes, Heart Disease, and the use of Evidence-Based Supplements to optimize health and longevity.