After getting a late start, the flu has hit widespread status in Arizona.
According to the state Department of Health Services, about 30 percent of the cases so far this season were reported in one week — the week ending March 17. That data release states 338 cases were confirmed in the state, making the season-to-date total 1,159.
It proves what medical professionals say all the time: the flu is completely unpredictable.
Arizona typically sees a rise in flu cases in February or early March. So health leaders can’t point to why this year is so different. This year’s numbers are still far below — 88 percent below — the number of flu cases at this time last year. But it may also represent just a hint of the actual number of people who are sick, since many don’t go to a doctor, health officials said.
“This late in the season, it’s important to stick to good public health advice — stay home if you’re sick, keep your kids home when they’re sick, cover your cough and wash your hands,” Will Humble, Arizona Department of Health Services director, said in a statement. “It’s amazing how these simple actions work to fight off all kinds of germs and disease.”
Dr. Mary Lynaff with Gilbert Urgent Care said people of all ages are visiting her facility.
“People are coming in with a high fever, usually something over 102.0 by mouth, a rapid heart rate and a cough,” she said. “And they hurt from head to toe. It didn’t creep up on them. It’s like a Mack truck hit them.”
The flu is a respiratory illness with symptoms that include a high fever and achiness. It may or may not include a cough. Lynaff said this year a lot of people are also complaining about a sore throat.
“They’re coming in early, within that first 24 hours, which is good because we can treat it with Tamiflu,” Lynaff said.
Tamiflu is the only CDC-recommended drug to help lessen the amount of time people are sick.
Public health officials remind everyone that since flu is here that if you didn’t get a flu shot, it’s not too late.
Lynaff concurs. She said nearly all the patients she has diagnosed with the flu were people who didn’t get a flu vaccine but should have because they were at high risk due to age (either very young or elderly) or existing health conditions.
Shoana Anderson, deputy bureau chief for epidemiology and disease control for the state health department, said this year’s flu shot has helped to keep numbers low overall.
“The strains we’ve seen have been covered by what’s in the vaccine. There’s no surprise. They’re what we’ve seen circulating for the last few years. It’s a pretty typical season in terms of the types of influenza out there,” she said.
In Arizona, about half the population typically gets a flu shot, Anderson said, with the number higher for older residents.
“We still do have a lot of people who don’t get their annual influenza vaccine. We have a lot of people who are susceptible already that might also be playing a role in spreading influenza,” she said.
Even though the Valley has seen warmer temperatures this winter – except for last weekend’s late-season storm – the flu could still stick around.
“There are a lot of people who debate that if we’re entering warmer temperatures there’s less flu circulating. But in other parts of the world, flu circulates year-round, like in the tropics,” she said.
One help, though, is that for most Valley children there are only a few more weeks of school until summer break.
“When kids are not in school, there are less opportunities for them to get influenza,” she said.
Contact writer: (480) 898-6549 or firstname.lastname@example.org