Flu’s Return Bugging East Valley Residents SanTan Sun News

Flu’s Return Bugging East Valley Residents

November 6th, 2018 | by SanTan Sun News
Flu’s Return Bugging East Valley Residents
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By Jason Stone

Staff

The flu has arrived in the East Valley, but local experts say it’s too early to tell if it’s going to be another bad year like the last one.

“Every year is completely different,” said Jeanene Fowler, spokesperson for the Maricopa County Health Department. “There’s so many variables that play into the flu season that it takes a crystal ball. Flu is always changing.”

Maricopa County has already received its first reports of the season.

The just-completed flu season of 2017-2018 ended with a big spike in cases from the previous year. The county listed 19,576 cases between Oct. 1, 2017, and Sept. 29, 2018, the most recent day of reporting.

Reported cases aren’t broken down by city or region of the county.

Last season’s total was up nearly 300 percent from the more than 6,600 cases during the 2016-17 flu season.

The five-year average is 7,908 cases.

The problem with all those numbers, Fowler said, is they’re likely not accurate.

“The majority of flu cases are never reported,” Fowler said. “Most people don’t see a doctor, so it’s drastically underrepresented.”

However, doctors and health experts can still learn about the flu season based on those who do report it.

They can learn the top demographic groups to report cases are men and women 65 and older and women 19 to 49.

It also allows them to pinpoint the worst strain of the season to better treat patients. Last year, the H3N2 strain was the big whopper. It remains to be seen what it will be this season.

“Usually, we’re just dealing with a couple of strains,” said Jennifer Tinney, the program director for the Arizona Partnership for Immunization. “There’s a predominant A strain, a secondary A strain, and usually a B strain.”

Those protective flu shots many people get each season usually protect the patient from two A and two B strains to be on the safe side.

Fowler said doctors can sometimes predict what strain will be bad based on the flu season in Australia during its cold season in July.

It’s all part of helping patients fend off the aches and pains associated with the flu. “Last year was a really bad season,” Fowler said. “The vaccine had limited protection. That wasn’t as high as we would like to see.”

Despite the higher case load last year, the first confirmed case of flu came about two weeks later than normal. Between 2014 and 2016, the first recorded case came on either Oct. 3 or 4, but it wasn’t until Oct. 16 that the first case was recorded in 2017.

North Carolina is already dealing with some bad cases. Two people there died from the virus last week, pushing health officials there to alarm residents about getting their flu shots. Last week, a 6-year-old girl in Florida also died from the flu.

Fowler said the flu indirectly causes more deaths than is reported.

“Sometimes it’ll be other issues that end up getting put on the death certificate, like pneumonia,” Fowler said.

Arizona and North Carolina are among eight states that have already reported flu cases so far this year.

Dignity Health has started its seasonal free flu clinics. Anybody over the age of 6 months can receive a vaccine.

For dates and locations, call 480-728-3777 for the children’s line or 480-728-2004 for the adult line. Both hotlines are open 24 hours.

The Mesa Fire and Medical Department is also offering free flu shots at the Superstition Springs Center on the second Wednesday of every month.

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