Got your shot yet? The flu virus has arrived early in Anchorage and Mat-Su

The flu season has arrived in Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, and so far it's hitting Alaskans harder than last year.

"We have seen more influenza activity early on this season," said Donna Fearey, a nurse epidemiologist with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

The state health department recorded 72 cases of the flu in Anchorage and Mat-Su during September, compared to 29 cases last year.

Fearey said it appears there was an early influx of reported flu cases across the state.

Health care workers reported 274 cases of the flu statewide in September 2017 compared to 89 the year before.

According to department data of reported flu cases by region, northern Alaska had the highest number of cases last month, at 86.

[Flu season hits hard and early in northern Alaska]


Fearey cautioned that the numbers only represent flu cases confirmed by a doctor's visit and a lab test. While the data help health officials establish trends, she said, it doesn't show with certainty just how widespread the flu really is.

Another unknown: what sort of flu season Alaskans can expect this year, even with the September cases tallied. Fearey said it's impossible to predict the trajectory of the unpredictable illness.

"Every flu season really is different," she said. "You can only look at the flu season after it's occurred to describe it."

Fearey said while at least a few flu cases emerge every month in Alaska, the official flu season typically lasts from October to May.

"It's safe to say that influenza season is starting and there's no way to predict when it will peak," she said.

During the last season, the number of flu cases peaked in January in Anchorage and Mat-Su. Across the Alaska, the health department recorded at least 11 "influenza-associated deaths." In the 2015-16 season, flu cases peaked around March and at least seven people died from the illness.

The state health department's annual vital statistics report, released Friday, lists "influenza and pneumonia" as the 10th leading cause of death in Alaska in 2016.

Fearey said so far this year, the circulating strains of the flu are covered by the vaccine.

She urged Alaskans to get vaccinated.

"The flu season is here," Fearey said. "Getting folks vaccinated is a priority."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone 6 months and older get a flu vaccine before the end of October.

Symptoms of the flu can include muscle aches, fatigue, congestion, a cough, a sore throat and a fever, according to the CDC.

Fearey said the flu can spread 24 hours before an infected person shows symptoms.

She encouraged people to wash their hands, to cover their coughs and to seek medical care early if they feel ill.

Tegan Hanlon

Tegan Hanlon was a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News between 2013 and 2019. She now reports for Alaska Public Media.