An alert was issued Tuesday concerning the unusually high number of summer flu cases in Alaska.
The Alaska Public Health Alert Network is advising health care providers to consider influenza when evaluating patients with compatible symptoms. The recent rise in summer cases is attributed to summer travelers to Alaska on land and cruise ships as well as a long-term care facility outbreak.
Infectious Disease Program Manager with Alaska’s Department of Health Michael Cooper says usually by June the numbers of flu cases has dwindled down to the occasional diagnosis. The sporadic spring and summer cases are normally travel related. However, according to the Department of Health, in May there were 127 reported cases in the state and 34 in June so far.
“It’s something that we prepare for each year, they match up the vaccine each year. A lot of the severity in the state is vaccine coverage,” Cooper said. “This past flu year the vaccine was a great match with the strains that were circulating. The more people that go and get vaccinated the lower that the burden of influenza is going to be on that area.”
Cooper says the best ways to avoid getting the flu in the first place is to wash your hands frequently and if you work or live with someone with the flu wash common surfaces. If you have the flu Cooper says it’s important to utilize proper cough etiquette, coughing into your elbow, and try to stay home and avoid spreading the virus.
“There are some anti-viral medications that shorten the duration of influenza and minimize the bad outcomes. They are available and most useful if they are used within 48 hours of initial onset,” Cooper said. “They can still be effective even after 48 hours so people that meet certain high risk categories might even benefit from those even after 48 hours. The flu is a virus, it’s not classically treatable like a bacteria, and it can’t be treated with an anti-biotic.”
Vaccines for the flu are still available through the end of June.