PHOENIX – As flu season reaches its peak, Maricopa County hospital emergency rooms and urgent care clinics are filling up with people with flu and flu-like illnesses. Health professionals advise residents to take care of themselves and their community members with preventive measures.
Mercedes Morris, a nurse practitioner at Banner Urgent Care, has worked in various facilities throughout the Valley for two years. She feels this year has brought a higher volume of influenza cases than in previous years.
“Influenza can affect all age groups and the seasons are from October through May,” Morris said. “Right now, we’re basically at the peak.”
The Arizona Department of Health Services reported 30,969 cases of influenza in the state since the beginning of the season on Oct. 1 through Wednesday. Both flu and RSV – respiratory syncytial virus – peaked during the holiday season and health providers report seeing an influx of respiratory illness cases ever since then.
Aeyrie Reiff, a family nurse practitioner, has been working with the Banner Urgent Care unit since 2008.
“It’s been busy. I think a lot of that could just be contributed to people interacting with other people again, right?” Reiff said. “We just had Christmas and New Year’s holidays and people were once again allowed or willing to be involved with their families and friends. Anytime you have that intersection, you’re going to have illness.”
This marks a major change from the pandemic, when urgent care facilities were handling high numbers of cases of both influenza and COVID-19, overwhelmed by the number of patients with severe symptoms.
“After going through the pandemic, everything feels simpler,” Reiff said. “The stress, the lack of supplies, the lack of everything that we had during that time really puts into perspective how good we have it.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, professional health care is recommended for those experiencing emergency warning signs of the flu.
Emergency warning signs include: difficulty breathing, persistent chest pain, seizures, lack of urination, severe muscle pain, fever or cough that improve but then return or worsen, and worsening of chronic medical conditions.
Those at higher risk – including people 65 years or older, people with chronic medical conditions, pregnant women and young children – should also pay attention to flu symptoms and visit a health care professional, according to the Maricopa County Public Health Department.
“So with anything, I think numbers are relative, for all this stuff,” Reiff said. “What matters more is how well you’re caring for yourself.
“If you already have a weak kidney or weak lungs or a weak heart, your risk of having a severe case is going to be higher,” Reiff said. “Same thing with COVID or any of these respiratory illnesses.”
Those with high-risk lifestyles, such as essential workers, should evaluate their symptoms before returning to work.
“If you’re a person that is constantly in front of the public, if you’re a person that’s constantly doing things around many people, your risk for getting a communicable disease can be much higher as opposed to someone that does a stay-at-home job,” Reiff said.
Medical professionals say vaccines are essential in protecting yourself and others. Both nurse practitioners said vaccines will be effective throughout the remainder of this year’s flu season; they advised getting them even now.
“Vaccines are important, they help decrease risk. I think that’s what a lot of this comes down to when you think about preventative treatment,” Reiff said. “You need to think about yourself and how much risk you’re putting yourself in.”
“If you’re having any kind of symptoms, fevers, body aches, chills: stay indoors,” Morris said. “Avoid large crowds, wear a mask, good hand hygiene, push lots of fluids.”