An East Valley woman has become the state’s first confirmed case of influenza of the season, providing a residents with a pre-holiday reminder to get vaccinated.
The unidentified woman, in her 80s, was recovering and expected to be released today from an area hospital, county health officials said.
Her test results Monday come as local and national public health experts are urging people to protect themselves and their loved ones against the flu and prevent millions of doses of vaccine from being wasted.
And it shows that others out there are suffering.
“I’m sure there have been influenza cases bouncing around the Valley before this,” said Dr. Bob England, director of the Maricopa County Public Health Department. “This is an indication that we’ll see more in the coming weeks.”
Private drug manufacturers produced a record 110 million doses of flu vaccine this season. That comes after two years of shortages that panicked patients and put the most vulnerable at the front of the line.
Still, distribution glitches mean that some clinics here and around the country haven’t received their full orders. Since the demand for flu shots typically wanes after Thanksgiving, doctors may be reluctant to order more and get stuck with vaccine they can’t sell.
That’s a huge frustration for public health professionals who know that flu shots can save lives.
“I’ll predict they wind up throwing out 10 to 20 million doses of influenza vaccine this year, because they will not have the demand for it,” said Dr. Art Mollen, the Valley’s largest flu shot provider with clinics inside Albertsons, Fry’s and CVS/pharmacy.
“Many physicians did not get the vaccine that they ordered,” he said. “They’re not going to order vaccine in December and wind up throwing it away.”
That, in turn, could cause suppliers to produce less vaccine next year.
Mollen orders his vaccine a year in advance and started with roughly 200,000 doses. On Monday, he added another 75 flu shot clinics to his list.
England said this isn’t an unusually early start to the flu season, but Thanksgiving travelers are likely to spread the illness around the country.
The real indicator that the season is in full swing comes when schools start reporting high absentee rates, England said. The flu season typically doesn’t peak until January or February.
Up to 20 percent of the country gets the flu each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The illness leads to about 36,000 deaths and 200,000 hospitalizations.
Who should get shots
Who should get a flu shot?
• Children under 5 years old, seniors and people with chronic health
conditions, such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease
• Healthy adults in regular contact with infants, seniors, people with chronic
health conditions or those who have been hospitalized
• Health care workers
Protect yourself and others against the flu:
• Avoid close contact with people who are sick
• Stay home if you get sick
• Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze
• Wash your hands often