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Flu season off to fierce, early start elsewhere, but too soon to tell in Arizona

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PHOENIX – At a free vaccination clinic the Maricopa County Department of Public Health offers for National Immunization Week, Isaias Saldanaje said his entire family now gets the flu shot every year.

“Last year I got it but my wife didn’t, and she got sick,” he said Thursday. “The kids get it every year, and they never get sick.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report this week declaring an unusually early and intense start to flu season. But state and county health officials say it’s difficult to predict how things will unfold in Arizona.

“What we do know so far this year is that it looks like we are having a little bit of an earlier flu season,” said Shoana Anderson, office chief for the Arizona Department of Health Services’ Office of Infectious Diseases. “That doesn’t always mean it’s going to be worse; sometimes that just means it’s kind of shifted and flu will come earlier, and go away sooner.”

As of Dec. 1, there had been 149 laboratory-confirmed cases of flu in Arizona, according to the state health department.

Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, a public health physician for the Maricopa County Department of Public Health, said it’s probably about to start increasing.

“Those cases just represent the tip of the iceberg,” Sunenshine said. “So by the time someone gets reported to public health, there’s probably a lot more flu cases out there for every one case reported to us.”

Michael Acoba, the Pima County Health Department’s epidemiology program manager, said this year’s flu vaccine has proven effective elsewhere.

“Vaccination is the best way to protect yourself,” Acoba said. “This year so far all of the strains in the vaccine are the strains that are being seen nationwide infecting people, so it is a really good match.”

Trish Lees, spokeswoman for the Coconino County Health Department, said people should take advantage of the increasing number of places where the vaccine is offered.

“They can visit their pharmacy, they can visit their health provider, they can visit their supermarket,” Lees said. “So they might not have been thinking about it when they went in the store, but they came out vaccinated.”

David McAtee, public information officer for Yavapai County Community Health Services, said the vaccine is covered by most insurance plans or costs about $15 to $25.

“We have flu clinics whenever we get free doses,” McAtee said. “We will also waive the fee if it is necessary.”