Flu Season Hits Hard In Rim Country

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Dick Wolfe woke up dizzy one day last week.

In a matter of hours, vertigo and nausea swept over his body, followed by three days of bed confinement.

"It was a very, very strange flu," said Wolfe. "I was dizzy to the extent that I couldn't get up and walk. I couldn't move my head because the room started spinning."

Flu season is here and, according to the Arizona Department of Health and Human Services, it's virulent and widespread this winter.

One thousand cases of hacking, stuffy, miserable residents in 13 out of Arizona's 15 counties have tested positive for the influenza A and B viruses.

"There's been a jump in the last few weeks," said Gila County epidemiologist Matt Bollinger, M.D. "The flu is a catchall term used for many virus illnesses -- the true influenza virus isn't rare at all."

Not only is the flu common, it's a serious illness said Bollinger.

Five to 20 percent of the American population contracts influenza each year -- 200,000 are hospitalized, and 36,000 more die annually, reported the Centers for Disease Control.

During the week of Dec. 11 to Dec. 17, the CDC chronicled an increasing number of cases nationwide, with the highest concentration of outbreaks in the Southwest.

Payson physician Bob Frayser said this year he's seen two major outbreaks in his office: one is influenza, which typically causes respiratory problems, the other, viral gastroenteritis, also called the stomach flu, is marked by cramping, diarrhea and vomiting.

"We're seeing quite a bit in kids and in adults," Frayser said. "Nothing real severe."

Viral gastroenteritis is caused by several viruses unrelated to influenza. Although symptoms usually last for 24 to 72 hours, patients could feel lethargic for up to 10 days reported the CDC.

"I was down and out for a few days," Wolfe said. "My doctor said his office was just flooded with cases. He gave me some medication and it stopped."

Bollinger said the best treatment for influenza and viral gastroenteritis is good hygiene.

"People need to wash their hands," Bollinger said. "One of the main portals is touching your mouth, eyes and nose with infected hands."

Meanwhile, viral gastroenteritis is transmitted through some bodily fluids.

"People won't wash correctly and then they'll make a fruit salad for 20," Bollinger said.

As increasing numbers of Rim Country residents fall ill, businesses around town are feeling the hit.

"Oh boy," Quinn Cremer, manager of Wal-Mart said. "You better believe it. It's hitting us hard right now. We've had a lot of instances, and a lot of people calling in sick."

While employees suffer at home, customers flock to the pharmacy for cold medicine.

"It's flying off the shelves," Quinn said. "The hardest thing for any operation, and you get that many people out and you depend on them. It's tough, but we're hanging in there."

Bollinger said the county is stocked with plenty of flu serum this year. In Payson, flu shots are available Tuesdays and Thursdays 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Contact the Gila County Department of Health in Payson at (928) 474-1210.

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