High number of influenza cases reported in Alaska

Posted: Friday, November 23, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- State health officials are reporting 123 Alaskans sick with influenza, more encounters this early in the flu season than in recent years.

''This is just an unusual flu season,'' said Karen Trottier, clinical supervisor for the emergency room at Providence Alaska Medical Center.

The first flu cases were reported in Fairbanks. Anchorage and the Mat-Su region have now reported 92. All cases are influenza type A, a strain contained in this year's vaccine.

Two seasons ago, numbers hadn't climbed as high until late January.

Based on Alaska's flu data, state health officials plan to report a regional spread of influenza to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As of Wednesday, no other state had reported regional infections. Most are reporting either no flu activity or only sporadic cases.

''We're more likely to see flu in December, and even more in January and February,'' said Dr. Beth Funk, state medical epidemiologist.

Initially, health officials wondered whether numbers could be up because of a nationwide anthrax scare, since the early symptoms of both are similar. But local physicians say it's simply an early flu season.

Trottier said flu this year is infecting people of all ages, requiring emergency room staffs to operate at capacity.

''The flu season has put a strain on all the emergency rooms in the area,'' Trottier said.

Dr. James Briggs says he's seeing more and more children with influenza. His first positive case came on Nov. 6 and he has had numerous cases since then between Nov. 14 and 19.

''I did 12 tests in a row that were all positives, which is unusual,'' Briggs said.

All of this testing has kept state health officials busy.

''I will say that the virology lab has been very busy to the point that they needed to get another incubator to take care of the specimens that are being sent to them,'' Funk said.

The state's allocation of 80,000 doses of flu vaccine is here, Funk said, and in the hands of medical providers.

Those most at risk include persons 65 and older, residents of nursing homes and other chronic-care facilities, those with pulmonary or cardiovascular disorders, children receiving long-term aspirin therapy, and women in the second or third trimester of pregnancy.

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