Flu Season Starts Late, Spreads Fast

Health department urges vulnerable residents to get vaccinated

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The flu season has finally kicked into gear, says the Gila County Health Department.

The county reported one new confirmed case last week and a total of three laboratory confirmed cases this season.

The onset of the flu is generally sudden and severe. You are feeling OK and a few hours later you suddenly have fever, chills, muscle aches and a headache followed by sore throat, congestion, cough and tiredness. A cold has a more gradual progression of symptoms with scratchy throat, watery eyes, runny nose, congestion and cough.

Colds and flu are caused by viruses and either is transmitted through droplets coughed or sneezed into the air; or by contact with droplets left on surfaces and picked up by touching the surface (shopping cart handle, door handle, countertop, pin pad, gas pump, etc.) and then transferred to your eyes, nose or mouth.

An important way to prevent the spread of cold and flu viruses is to regularly clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces such as doorknobs, countertops and shared items like computer keyboards or phones.

The flu vaccine is available on a walk-in basis Monday through Friday during normal pharmacy hours at Walgreens and Safeway and by calling ahead to Diversified Solutions at (928) 472-3388 as well as the Gila County Health Department at (928) 474-1210.

The Arizona Department of Health Service (ADHS) also issued a statewide warning last week, covering 14 of the state’s 15 counties.

“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,” said ADHS Director Will Humble. “It’s amazing how these simple actions work to fight off all kinds of germs and disease.”

Influenza is unpredictable. Arizona typically sees most of its flu cases in February or March, but the virus sometimes rears its ugly head either earlier or later in the season.

This year flu reports started late, but have been steadily increasing. Approximately 30 percent (338) of all the cases (1,159) this season were reported in mid-March. However, that probably represents only a fraction of the actual cases.

Nationally, the flu season also came late — with a rise reported in 15 states.

The flu causes an estimated 200,000 hospitalizations and between 3,300 to 49,000 deaths each year, depending upon the severity of the influenza season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Gila County Division of Health and Emergency Services urged vulnerable residents to get vaccinated. For information on how to obtain a flu shot call (928) 474-1210.

The CDC says the entire country is seeing its latest flu season in nearly three decades. The CDC set the start of the flu season at Feb. 4, when the percentage specimens testing positive for the flu virus rose to 10.5 percent from 7.6 percent the prior week.

The last time the season started so late was in 1988.

“The increases we are seeing in the number of respiratory samples testing positive for flu should forecast increases in other flu activity indicators in the coming weeks,” says Lyn Finelli, chief of domestic surveillance for CDC’s influenza division.

It takes about two weeks after vaccination for the body’s immune response to fully kick in. CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older get an annual flu vaccine.

So far, most of the U.S. influenza viruses tested have been well-matched to circulating influenza viruses.

Most of these viruses have been influenza A (H3N2) viruses, but in recent weeks the proportion of 2009 H1N1 viruses have been increasing, particularly in states bordering Mexico.

In addition to universal vaccination, CDC also recommends the use of influenza antiviral medications as a second line of defense against the flu, especially for the elderly and people with other health problems. This includes: hospitalized patients with suspected or confirmed influenza; people with severe or progressive illness; outpatients who are at high risk for influenza complications (for example, young children, people 65 and older, pregnant women, and persons with certain underlying chronic medical conditions).

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