Arizona's official flu count has officially reached "widespread" status, according to a press release today from the Department of Health Services (DHS).
While flu season Arizona normally peaks in February or March, 2200 cases have been reported as of today, with about 1,000 alone reported last week. Fourteen of our 15 counties have reported flu. Still, we can assume that we have not seen the worst of it here as they have in the Boston area, which has declared a health emergency.
Also, keep in mind that official numbers are low as many flu patients won't or can't get to a physician, clinic, or hospital. Even so, a few hospitals in Arizona are on "Divert" or "Caution" status, meaning they are at or near capacity with flu patients.
Dr. Cara Crist, DHS's Chief Medical Officer, is urging people to get flu shots. Here's where you can get them:
- Target pharmacies offer them for about $28 and will attempt to get uninsured people on a discount program to lower the cost.
- CVS MinuteClinics are also offering shots and a 20% discount coupon for the store. I was unable to get a price quote from CVS but it's safe to assume it is under $35, the price my own family's pediatrician quoted for out-of-pocket pay.
- Safeway stores and Walgreen's pharmacies.
- Also check out stopthespread, where you can get information on flu shot clinics in your area by zip code.
Virtually all insurance plans cover flu shots with no copayment or a very small one.
Has anyone died from flu? Yes. As of last night, 18 children around the country have died from flu. About 100 people in total have died so far, and let me repeat, it's still early in Arizona's flu season.
If you had a flu shot and are cursing it because you think you have flu anyway, consider that we are also seeing an epidemic of pertussis (also known as whooping cough) in the state and around the nation. It's the worst pertussis outbreak in 60 years. Pertussis has a lot of the same symptoms as flu, notably a runny nose and persistent cough. Listen for a whooping sound.
The pertussis epidemic is independent of flu and is largely caused by people refusing to vaccinate their children, who easily pick it up since it's highly contagious. The pertussis vaccine doesn't bring lifetime immunity and can infect adults who had their shots years ago. Many pharmacies, including Walgreen's, are offering pertussis vaccinations for anyone. If your child was been vaccinated as a baby, call your physician to see if he or she is due for a booster.
There is also a large outbreak of norovirus, or stomach flu. The flu shot won't protect you against this either. This particular outbreak features a new strain as well.
The best advice doctors have is to constantly wash your hands, especially before you eat, before and after using the toilet, and whenever you've coughed, sneezed, blown your nose, used a tissues, or otherwise exposed your hands to viruses. (Try to cough or sneeze into your arm or sleeve.)
This is one season where it pays to be obsessive-compulsive.