Flu surge has Arizonans crowding emergency rooms, clinics

Matt Maurer, the epidemiologist for Coconino County, holds a vial of influenza vaccine at the county health department in Flagstaff, Ariz. The county, just like the rest of the state, has seen a spike in flu cases and it has overwhelmed some providers. (Jake Bacon/Arizona Daily Sun via AP)

Jake Bacon

PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona's record surge of flu cases is crowding clinics, doctors' offices and hospital emergency rooms statewide, health officials said Wednesday.

The state Department of Health Services reported 11,515 flu cases so far this season, compared with 1,109 cases during the same time period last year. The latest figures include 2,455 cases reported between Dec. 31 and Saturday. That's up from 275 cases during the same week a year ago.

The department said last week that the state was experiencing "the highest number of seasonal cases this early since influenza tests became reportable" and that Arizona hasn't seen widespread cases until February in the past two years.

"It's everywhere," Terri Farneti, Yavapai County public health coordinator, told The Daily Courier .

Arizona is among 26 states that the federal Centers for Disease Control said have high flu activity, with widespread activity reported in 46 states.

The department advised people to seek emergency care only if they are at high risk for complications or experiencing severe symptoms.

However, "influenza is a very serious illness, so if you're at high risk or have symptoms such as difficulty breathing, chest pain, dizziness, confusion, persistent vomiting, cannot drink fluids, or have flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever or worse cough, seek emergency medical care immediately," said Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Department of Health Services.

Jennifer Rohler, emergency services manager at Kingman Regional Medical Center, told the Kingman Daily Miner that wait times can stretch up to four hours and that many sick people are better off just staying home and taking over-the-counter medication.

"We ask that people educate themselves regarding when to come to the emergency room and when to stay home," Rohler said. "If you are sick, please stay home to prevent further spread of the virus. There is no magic treatment to improve your symptoms rapidly."

Flagstaff primary care provider Northwoods Medical Associates has been overwhelmed with flu cases, said Kim McCasland, the practice's administrator.

"We're seeing who we can, but we can't work 24 hours a day," McCasland told the Arizona Daily Sun .

The Department of Health Services said getting vaccinated is the most effective protection against the flu.

It can take up to two weeks to build full immunity to influenza following a vaccination, so people should get shots immediately, the department said.

"It's not too late," Dr. Terry Vondrak, a Tucson pediatrician, told KGUN-TV . "Get out there and get your flu shot."


This story has been corrected to provide the full name of the Arizona Department of Health Services.

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