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Officials: Sports fans arriving from flu-heavy states bringing more than Super Bowl fever

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Throngs of sports fans headed here for a string of high-profile sporting events may spread more than Super Bowl fever. Health officials warn they might also bring the flu, worsening what’s already shaping up to be a tough season.

Jessica Rigler, chief of the Bureau of Epidemiology and Disease Control at the Arizona Department of Health Services, said many of those attending the Pro Bowl, Super Bowl and Waste Management Phoenix Open will come from places where flu has been widespread for some time.

That influx is all the more reason to get a flu vaccine if you’ve yet to do so, she said. listen

“We know that it takes about two weeks to build immunity once you get the flu shot. Now’s the time,” Rigler said. “That will help them be protected against the flu that our visitors might be bringing in with them.” listen

Jeanene Fowler, public information officer for the Maricopa County Department of Public Health, said staying home when you feel sick is especially important with the events expected to draw crowds not just in Glendale and Scottsdale but in downtown Phoenix. The worst-case scenario, Fowler added, is people who have the flu spreading it by joining the crowds.

For those who won’t let a case of the flu or fear of the flu keep them from participating in the fun, Rigler strongly advises wearing a mask.

“Wearing a mask will help stop the spread of germs through coughs and sneezes,” Rigler said.

Super Bowl or no, Arizona is already having a difficult time with the flu.

Though flu season took off earlier in other states, Arizona has seen well over 2,000 cases so far, according to the most recent Influenza Summary by the Arizona Department of Health Services. That’s a large increase from cases reported by this time last year and in any other typical flu season.

Many more cases probably aren’t being reported, as people often don’t visit the doctor when they’re feeling sick, the agency notes.

The report also says the flu’s spread grew from regional to widespread this week.

In addition, the most prevalent strain of the flu circulating here, known as H3N2, makes people sicker than most, with young children and older adults particularly vulnerable. This year’s flu vaccine isn’t as effective because the strain it targets doesn’t match up perfectly with H3N2, according to a health advisory released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That’s no reason to pass up the flu shot, Rigler said, noting that vaccination increases antibodies that help fight the flu.

Jennifer Tinney, program director for the Arizona Partnership for Immunization, said it’s healthy people in particular who should get vaccinated, because they are especially likely to spread the flu to those who are more vulnerable.

Tinney said that likeliness increases significantly when people flock together, as they will for the coming sporting events.

“The No.1 reason to get vaccinated is to create what we call community immunity,” Tinney said. “If enough people get vaccinated, we can prevent a disease from spreading at all.”