Hundreds of Arizonans killed by flu this season, new strain emerging
PHOENIX — This flu season will likely go down as one of the deadliest in Arizona history, as more than 450 people have been killed by the illness.
“That’s about 200 more than we see typically see in a flu season,” Jessica Rigler, the branch chief for public health preparedness for the Arizona Department of Health Services, said of the 461 people who have died so far.
Rigler said the state has recorded more than 23,000 flu cases this season. It will likely go down as one of the worst seasons on record.
“We’ve seen many, many more cases this season than we typically see so far in a season,” she said. “For example, we’ve already exceeded the number of cases we saw during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.”
Rigler said the majority of the cases were experienced by two age groups.
“We’re seeing a lot of cases in individuals 65 years and older,” she said. “About 30 percent of our cases are in that age group. Another 25 percent or in are in kids, so 18 and younger.”
Rigler also said officials have noticed a recent rise in cases related to a different strain. Influenza A was contracted by patients earlier in the season, but influenza B cases have increased.
However, she was unsure if a second strain would lead to another wave of sick people.
“Flu is really unpredictable, so it’s hard to tell exactly what’s going to happen in terms of numbers, but I will say we’re starting to see a different strain of flu that’s starting to predominate now,” she said.
The CDC also said the vaccine for both strains has only been 36 percent effective.
Rigler said people who contract influenza B may exhibit milder symptoms — fatigue, aches and a runny nose — than those who had influenza A.
She said those worried about the flu should get a vaccine if they haven’t already and those who are sick should stay home to avoid spreading the illness.
KTAR News’ Jeremy Foster contributed to this report.