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A dominant strain of the flu came early and fierce this season, signaling a severe flu season. A huge spike in the number of reported and confirmed cases in Arizona means a particularly bad year for the flu in the Grand Canyon State.

What makes the numbers so alarming has to do with the timing: Flu numbers usually peak in February, not December and January. According to the Arizona Department of Health Services:

  • 2,455 confirmed cases of influenza from 15 counties were reported between Dec. 31, 2017, and Jan. 6, 2018
  • This number is nearly 2,200 more cases compared to the same week last season.
  • 11,515 cases have been reported this season
  • There has been a total of 10,400 more cases to date this season compared to last season

The Arizona Department of Health Services reports 90 percent of the cases are the Influenza A H3N2 type, the same strain as last year’s flu season which lasted unusually long and into the summer months with 100 or more cases a week reported into June and July.

In past years when the N3N2 strain has been dominant, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, says young kids and the elderly tend to be affected more than others in the high-risk category, and are the primary ages hospitalized for the flu.

What is influenza?

Influenza, or the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. Thousands of people die each year from the flu and flu-related illnesses. In seasonal flu, certain people are at high risk of serious complications including people who are 65 years and older, children younger than 5 years old, pregnant women and those of any age with certain chronic medical conditions.

What are flu symptoms?

During flu season, symptoms include a sudden fever that lasts three to four days, headache, aches and pains, sore throat, chest discomfort, and fatigue and weakness that can last two to three weeks or more. The common stomach flu is not related to flu season. However, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea can be present in children younger than 5 years old.

Is it too late to get a flu vaccine?

Even though recent data shows this year's flu vaccine is not as effective as in years past, the vaccine is still the first and most important step in protecting against flu infection. It can protect you from the flu and may also help avoid spreading influenza to others. Protection from the flu vaccine lasts about a year. Because the influenza virus is always changing, it is best to get vaccinated each year. And the vaccine provides good protection against other influenza strains, which are becoming more common this season.

Additionally, this year’s flu seems to be quite susceptible to the available flu medications, like Tamiflu, also known as oseltamivir. What’s more, Tamiflu, is “widely available” according to its manufacturers, who do not expect any shortage of the medication. It is most helpful if taken within 48 hours of the start of the flu.

It is not too late to get vaccinated for this flu season. Anyone 6 months old and older can get the flu vaccine. You should not get the vaccine if you have a fever or are currently have the flu.

  • Taking the following everyday steps can also help protect your health:
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze; throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Cough or sneeze into your arm (elbow) if a tissue is not available; do not cover your cough or sneeze with your hands, unless you can immediately wash them.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for 15 to 20 seconds.
  • Use hand sanitizer between handwashing.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth; germs spread this way .
  • ​ Try to avoid close contact with sick people.

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If you are sick with flu-like symptoms, the CDC recommends you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care (your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine).

When should you seek urgent medical care?

In children:

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish skin color
  • Not waking up or not interactin g
  • Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
  • Fever with a rash

In adults:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting

For more information, talk with your healthcare provider. You can also visit the CDC's website at cdc.gov/flu or the Arizona Department of Health Services’ website at azdhs.gov.

Is there a health topic you would like to know more about? Contact Starla S. Collins, health writer, at StarlaSCollins@gmail.com​.

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