The number of confirmed flu cases in Arizona has increased dramatically in the last four weeks. As Arizona Public Radio’s Ryan Heinsius reports, despite the sudden uptick, flu numbers are still well below where they were last year.
The Arizona Department of Health Services upgraded the state’s influenza category to “widespread” this week. That means the spread of flu has reached its highest possible rate. Coconino County has reported 79 confirmed cases of flu and no deaths for the current season. Most cases in the county have been adults between 19 and 49 years old. But, the current number of flu cases is still significantly lower than last year’s January rates. Mare Schumacher, an epidemiologist with Coconino County Public Health Services District, said this year’s flu season appears relatively normal.
“We may just be starting a little later and then we’re going to reach last year’s levels. As you can see, two years ago we peaked more like in February, so we may be on that track again,” Schumacher said.
In Coconino County, the most common subtype has been the H1N1 strain, which was responsible for the 2009 U.S. pandemic. School absences due to illness in Coconino County have increased in numbers consistent with confirmed flu cases. Flu numbers often spike during January as the holiday travel season ends, children return to school and people generally spend more time indoors.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that Arizona has the second-lowest rate of flu vaccination in the U.S. for adults aged 18 to 64. The CDC also says flu is active essentially year-round with the peak season lasting from October through May.