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1:16 PM Tue, Sept. 18th

Flu cases up more than 700 percent in Arizona

Arizona’s flu epidemic is “everywhere” this winter

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Tips to follow to avoid getting, or spreading, the flu:

• Wash hands frequently

• Stay hydrated, particularly have physical exertion

• Eat whole grains as they help build up healthy bacteria to ward off illness

• Limit stress

• Don’t share pens

• Use cleansing wipes on phones, computer equipment and other shared spaces

• If sick with fever or flu symptoms, stay home

Feeling congested, achy, feverish, or just out-and-out crappy? You’re far from alone.

Flu season has hit Arizona hard this year: the state Department of Health said this year’s epidemic is proving to be far worse than last year, with emergency rooms experiencing longer than average wait times due to an overflow of sick patients.

“It’s everywhere,” declared Yavapai County Community Health Services Public Health Coordinator Terri Farneti.

The state Department of Health reports there have been 7,978 cases of flu reported so far this season, with 2,453 reported the last week of December. A year ago, in the same time period, the state had reports of a total of 834 cases, 282 in the last week of December 2016.

Representing a more than 700 percent increase in cases, state and local health leaders said this is the highest number of seasonal cases this early in the flu season that runs from late fall into mid-winter.

In Yavapai County, over 600 cases were reported in the last month, but as many were not lab tested, the numbers may be considerably higher, said epidemiologist Stephen Everett with Yavapai County Community Health Services. One pediatric death has been confirmed, he said.

Though the most common flu symptoms are fever, chills, cough, sore throat, headaches and fatigue, Everett said more serious complications can arise in those under than five years old or over 65, or those with chronic medical ailments, including asthma, diabetes and respiratory illnesses.

State health officials recommend only those with severe symptoms, or in high risk categories, such as babies, pregnant women, adult over 65, or those with compromised immune systems, seek emergency medical care.

“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 state Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ in a news release.

Those with milder cases may wish to call their own primary care provider, or simply stay home, rest, drink plenty of fluids, and possibly combine some homemade chicken soup with over-the-counter remedies to treat symptoms, state and local health officials said. Most important is to stay clear of others as much as possible, they said.

“Someone with influenza can spread the disease when they cough, sneeze, or talk, which creates influenza droplets that can land in the mouth or nose of someone nearby,” Christ said. “You can also catch influenza by touching a surface or object that the virus lands on and then touching your mouth, nose, or other parts of your face.”

For those who contract the flu, both the A and B viruses, Everett said doctors can prescribe Tamiflu for those two weeks of age and older. In some cases, doctors may use Tamiflu as a preventative measure, he said.

Rumors of a shortage in this area are false, but due to the large numbers of people who are sick seeking treatment there has been a “bottleneck” in obtaining the medicine that is expected to be resolved soon, Everett said.

If you are the lucky ones to still be healthy, state and local health officials advise it is not too late to get a flu shot, one of the best preventative measures even if it is not 100 percent foolproof.

Local pharmacies offer flu shots — Medicare, Medicaid and most insurances cover the cost — and the state Department of Health offers a website so people can find a location to obtain one: vaccinefinder.org

“Anyone over six months of age, unless they have certain allergies or certain health conditions, should get the flu shot,” Everett said, noting vaccination is a means of protecting those one encounters routinely, including those in higher risk categories.