There’s no way to avoid the fact that the flu is coming, but there’s still time to avoid the flu. It’s shaping up to be a typical season in Arizona, with the illness gradually taking hold the past few weeks and expected to swing into full bloom by early February and last into March.
Since it takes about two weeks for the flu vaccine to fully protect you, public health experts say it’s time to get the shot.
Or face the consequences.
“Influenza is not just a sore throat and a runny nose,” said Dr. Karen Lewis, medical director with the state Department of Health Services.
“All of a sudden, you get this high fever. You hurt all over and you are completely drained of energy. You’re shivering, shaking. You crawl into bed for three to four days, feeling like you’re dying.”
Trouble is, it’s harder to fi nd a flu shot this time of year. Although the vaccine was plentiful, with more than 100 million doses available nationwide, most clinics have stopped mass immunization efforts since demand typically wanes after the holidays.
Rather than throw away excess vaccine, CIGNA is giving its supply to the Maricopa County Department of Public Health, which plans to offer free shots at area clinics, said spokeswoman Jeanene Fowler.
NextCare Urgent Care is expected to give some of that free vaccine to customers at its 14 Arizona locations, including Scottsdale, Mesa and Chandler. A fl u shot typically costs about $20 per dose.
“We’ve all got surpluses. We know the flu is coming. Let’s get (the vaccine) out there,” said NextCare president Laurel Stoimenoff.
She’ll be getting her two college-age children vaccinated this week, while scheduling extra staff for the busy weeks to come.
“We have not seen that much real flu yet,” she said. “People don’t realize how bad they’re going to feel.”
Dr. Gary Auxier is seeing miserable children come into his Gilbert pediatric offi ce at a rate of about 20 to 30 a day, many of them with typical fl u symptoms.
“High fever, cough, runny nose, sore throat. Just feeling crummy,” Auxier said. “It’s the season.”
If they’ve only been sick for a day or two, he can offer them an anti-viral medication to ease the symptoms.
“But typically, there’s nothing you can do,” he said. “It’s just a virus and you’ve got to wait it out.”
Healthy children who come in for their routine physicals and aren’t expecting a shot will get a surprise from Auxier, who’s urging their parents to have them vaccinated on the spot.
Since there’s no shortage of the vaccine, unlike the past two years, health offi cials say everyone should get a flu shot.
But those at highest risk for complications from infl uenza include children up to age 5, pregnant women, those over 50 years old and people with chronic illnesses such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease. Health care providers and anyone who works with children or seniors also should be vaccinated.
The most recent data from the state Department of Health Services shows the number of confirmed cases in Maricopa County is rising steadily. And Lewis and other public health offi cials are watching widespread fl u activity in the Southeast and its expected spread westward.
“It will stuff the emergency departments,” Lewis said.
Last year, a flu spike over the holidays slammed hospital emergency rooms and was blamed for the three-hour closure of Banner Baywood’s ER in Mesa.
Additional hospitals, urgent care centers and retail clinics are expected to ease the crunch somewhat, and health offi cials encourage people to stay home unless they’re having trouble breathing, feeling dehydrated, disoriented or faint.
“If your brain is working fine, you’re able to keep fluids down, you’re conscious, you’re not having breathing problems and you’re not in terrible pain,” Lewis said, “it’s probably not an emergency.”
Up to 20 percent of the country gets the fl u each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The illness leads to about 36,000 deaths and 200,000 hospitalizations.