PHOENIX – Despite the harsh flu season so far on the East Coast, it’s too early to determine whether Arizona will follow suit, health officials said Thursday.
“We’re not doing as badly right now. We’ve got a lot of activity, but not as bad as Massachusetts,” said Dr. John-Leander Po, chairman of Banner Estrella Medical Center’s Infection Control Committee and president of Arizona Infectious Diseases Society.
Although it’s not bad right now, Po said the virus could get worse here because it appears to travel from the East Coast to the West Coast with the snowbirds and other travelers.
Po recommends avoiding anyone who is sick, staying home if feeling ill, coughing into shoulders or arms and getting vaccinated.
“There’s a misconception that the flu shot will protect you 100 percent. That’s not true; it’s usually 60 to 80 percent effective,” Po said. “Even if you’re protected and you get it, the virus effects aren’t as bad.”
Michael Acoba, epidemiology program manager for the Pima County Health Department, said this year’s virus, H3N2, is similar to the common H1N1 virus.
“It’s the same flu symptoms: fever, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, muscle aches,” Acoba said, “But H3N2 tends to cause more severe symptoms.”
Acoba said the first reported case in Pima County was in early December, but the 178 reported cases as of Saturday are about equal to other years within the first five weeks of the season.
“It’s too early to tell how severe it will be,” Acoba said. “It could mean an early end to the flu season. It could mean a longer season. But it’s never too late to get vaccinated.”
According to an Arizona Department of Health Services’ Influenza Summary, Maricopa County has had the most infections with 511. The department had confirmed 1,137 cases statewide as of Saturday, with no deaths.
The flu virus in Arizona was declared “widespread” Thursday, meaning at least half of the state has lab-confirmed cases, said Dr. Cara Christ, division of licensing services chairwoman for the Arizona Department of Health Services. All 15 counties have reported infections.
Christ also said lab reports are showing the vaccine is still effective against the virus.
Jeanene Fowler, public information supervisor for the Maricopa County Department of Public Health, said secondary infections like pneumonia rather than the flu itself are what cause larger medical problems.
Besides resting, drinking water and avoiding anyone with flu-like symptoms, Fowler suggests rethinking going to the doctor or the emergency room because it can expose others to the virus or expose the ill to other infections.
“The best thing we can do is stay home,” Fowler said.
However, anyone with trouble breathing, dizziness or other health issues should contact their doctor to determine if he or she should seek help, she said.