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Flu outbreak has already arrived in Alaska, state says

Rosemary Shinohara

Alaska is already in the throes of a widespread outbreak of influenza, while most states are only reporting sporadic cases, state epidemiologist Dr. Joseph McLaughlin said Tuesday.

"It's possible we may be the only state to be widespread" this early, McLaughlin said.

The intensity of the seasonal outbreak is still low, though there are cases in many parts of the state, said Donna Fearey, a state nurse epidemiologist who co-ordinates flu information.

The state virology laboratory confirmed 91 cases over the past month, most of them from the Anchorage and Matanuska-Susitna Borough areas and Interior Alaska, the state health officials said.

The Anchorage School District nursing director could not be reached to say how the outbreak has been affecting local schools.

Last year the flu arrived pretty late in Alaska, in February or March, McLaughlin said. But the outbreak's seasonal start varies from year to year. In 2009, when there was a worldwide pandemic of swine-flu virus, the number of cases in Alaska began rising in October.

This year the strains circulating -- mostly Influenza A so far, wih some Influenza B - are well-matched to the vaccine, he said.

McLaughlin urged those who have not yet been vaccinated for flu and another serious respiratory illness -- pertussis, otherwise known as whooping cough -- to get it done.

Flu vaccine, available in pharmacies as well as clinics, can be given to everyone six months of age and older.

Young children get a series of five vaccines against pertussis, diphtheria and tetanus. Children who are 11 years old or older and adults need a one-time booster vaccine for those diseases.

Both flu and whooping cough are potentially serious diseases, McLaughlin said.

"Many people get hospitalized and die from influenza every year," he said.

Getting vaccinated not only protects a person, but it helps prevent the spread of flu in a community, he said.

While there were fewer than 60 whooping cough cases in Alaska each of the last couple of years, this year there have already been 204 cases, McLaughlin said.

"You can be sick for months, with a hacking cough, a fever. You really feel crummy."

Reach Rosemary Shinohara at or 257-4340.



Alaska flu information