The first lab-confirmed cases of influenza have reached the central Kenai Peninsula, according to health experts.
Although many residents have been complaining of flu-like symptoms for weeks this flu season, no flu cases were lab confirmed, said Janet Gleason, infection control nurse at Central Peninsula General Hospital.
She explained that either people with colds or other ailments thought they were suffering from the flu, or people who actually had the flu were self-medicating and not seeing a doctor, so the cases were not being reported to the state epidemiology lab for confirmation.
Gleason said CPGH now has received confirmation of eight influenza cases on the peninsula.
"Almost as soon as I told you there were none, we got eight confirmed," Gleason said Friday.
Statewide, 365 cases have been confirmed, with the vast majority 254 in the Anchorage-Matanuska Valley area.
For epidemiology department purposes, the Kenai Peninsula falls into a region known as "Gulf Coast," which includes Cordova, Valdez and Kodiak Island, as well.
The region had 20 confirmed cases of flu between Nov. 27 and Feb. 7.
"We saw an increase in flu-like symptoms reports a week ago," said Dr. Beth Funk of the Alaska Division of Public Health epidemiology department.
"The number is not increasing now," she said.
A bar chart on the epidemiology department Web site shows the highest number of flu cases were confirmed during the last two weeks of January and the first week in February.
In the week ending Jan. 22, 44 cases were confirmed; in the week ending Jan. 29, 38 cases were confirmed; and in the week ending Feb. 5, 40 cases were confirmed.
Last week, only 15 cases were confirmed.
Funk said a slight lag might occur between the date a case is confirmed and the time the confirmation is reflected in the state totals.
"Lab cultures could take between one and two weeks before (the confirmed cases) are added to the chart," Funk said.
Gleason said people in high-risk categories should still get a flu shot if they haven't yet.
"We go well into the summer," Gleason said of the duration of Alaska's flu season.
Suggestions for preventing the spread of influenza include staying home from work or school if people are ill with fever and cough; cover the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing; and wash hands frequently.
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