Alaska News

Alaska’s flu season arrived early this year — and with a bang

Flu and cold season has arrived early in Alaska this year, prompting reminders from public health officials about the importance of getting yearly influenza vaccines, and soon.

“We’re definitely having a busier, earlier flu season than we have in recent years,” said Anna Frick, an epidemiologist with the Alaska Department of Health.

“It’s here, it’s in multiple parts of the state, and seems to be on the rise. So now is a great time to go get that shot,” she said.

The flu typically peaks in the state around December and January. This year, cases have been steadily rising since late September.

Last week, there were 380 lab-confirmed influenza cases in the state, compared to 259 the previous week, and 205 the week before, according to a weekly respiratory virus bulletin put out by the state.

The trend appears to be unique to Alaska; flu seasons in the Lower 48 do not appear to have taken off yet, Frick said.

She said that it was hard to know why the flu came earlier this year to Alaska, but it might have to do with the cold, wet weather in recent weeks that kept people inside more than they might otherwise be.


[COVID deaths in Alaska down significantly in 2022 but still the 4th leading cause of death]

Similar spikes have not yet been seen in the state involving other respiratory illnesses that tend to also take off in the cooler months, including respiratory syncytial virus, also known as RSV, or COVID-19, Frick said.

Influenza is a viral infection that attacks the respiratory system, the nose, throat, bronchial tubes and lungs. Anyone can get the flu, but young children, older adults and those with chronic illnesses are especially vulnerable.

For the first two years of the pandemic, exceptionally mild flu seasons were recorded in Alaska and nationwide. In 2020 Alaska reported less than 100 total influenza cases, fewer than any season in recent history. There was a slight uptick in 2021, but it was still below pre-pandemic averages.

Frick said social distancing, masking and other pandemic precautions likely contributed to those mild seasons.

“During the pandemic, the flu season behaved kind of oddly, and that’s probably due to the changing package of measures we had in place to try to mitigate the spread of COVID,” she said.

“A lot of the things we were doing to disrupt the spread of COVID would have also disrupted the spread of flu,” she said.

Last year’s flu and RSV season was particularly bad nationwide and in Alaska, where hospitals reported full pediatric units while the contagious illnesses made rounds through the fall and winter.

[Where to get a free flu shot in Anchorage this season]

RSV is is a common respiratory virus that typically causes mild, cold-like symptoms. It can sometimes be serious, especially for infants and older adults, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This year, two new RSV vaccines for older adults, and a new monoclonal antibody treatment that protects infants and young children from the illness, are available as an added form of protection.

State health officials have said they’re hopeful the newly approved RSV protections could mean significantly fewer hospitalizations in Alaska this year, and have encouraged higher-risk Alaskans to talk to their doctors about their options.

The CDC recommends that most Americans older than 6 months get their flu shot by the end of October, which is typically when the flu season begins to take off.

Around Alaska, private-sector doses of the vaccine are available in pharmacies around the state and are available for free with insurance. You can visit the state health department’s website to find a nearby public health center that’s distributing the flu vaccine.

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Annie Berman

Annie Berman is a reporter covering health care, education and general assignments for the Anchorage Daily News. She previously reported for Mission Local and KQED in San Francisco before joining ADN in 2020. Contact her at