A record flu season in Arizona and California has emergency rooms packed, medicine shortages and deaths being reported.
Anecdotal reports have circulated since early December about the length of the illnesses being seen and the severity of the symptoms in some cases, but government data confirms that influenza activity levels in the region this year have reached an early peak, occurring in December rather than late January as in most years.
“It happened really fast this year, so it’s really hard to tell if it’s going to peak early or if it’s going to stay,” said Diane Grazier from La Paz County Health Department, speaking to Parker Live. “You don’t normally see it peak until the end of January or into February, but rarely in the past we’ve seen it peak early and then it was on its way out by January.”
Grazier said that does not necessarily mean the flu season will be over soon.
“This year is particularly bad because it’s dominated by the H3N2 [flu strain], which tends to be more severe and causes more severe symptoms than other strains of flu,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, speaking to LiveScience.com. “I don’t know what the final tally will be in this flu season, [but] I suspect it will be one of the worst ones we’ve had in recent years.”
Even though the flu vaccine may be only effective in about a third of the population against the H3N2 strain, Grazier said it’s still worth getting one.
“There’s a huge fallacy that says that it doesn’t do much good to get vaccinated once you’re in the middle of flu season,” she said, “but it’s never too late to get it. We have flu vaccine here [at the Health Department] and a lot of the pharmacies have it as well. Last I knew CVS was out, unlesss they got some more, but Walmart has some, as far as I know. Six months of age and older can get the flu shot.”
The flu is transmitted when droplets containing the virus from another person enter into your eyes, nose or mouth. To avoid this, wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer, avoid touching your face throughout the day, get vaccinated and if you get infected, stay home for several days to avoid infecting others.
Shortages of Tamiflu have been reported in Southern California over the weekend, but is currently available at pharmacies in Parker, AZ.