Tuesday, January 29, 2002

Early isle flu
season has doctors
urging flu shots

Seasonal variations and earlier reporting
result in an early hike in cases this year

By Rosemarie Bernardo

Experiencing chills, muscle pains and a high fever? Flu cases are peaking earlier this year than in previous years, according to state health officials.

Normally, the flu season strikes Hawaii in February and March, said Tracy Ayers, influenza surveillance coordinator of the state Department of Health. This year, Hawaii is parallel to the mainland, where the flu season commonly occurs in January, Ayers said.

Paul Effler, state epidemiologist, said one of the reasons for the increase is that more doctors are reporting flu cases earlier under a new system.

Dr. William Lau, specialist of infectious diseases and clinical associate professor of John S. Burns School of Medicine at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, said, "We really don't know why influenza hits earlier than later."

A seasonal variation occurs, Lau said. Usually it hits in the winter months, he said.

From Jan. 7 to 13, flu-like illnesses peaked at 4.9 percent of the persons going to doctors, compared to flu-like illnesses that peaked March 4-10, 2000, at 5.6 percent, according to an influenza surveillance report submitted by Hawaii Sentinel Physicians.

Cases of flu-like illness have affected residents all over Oahu, Ayers added.

Almost every year, the flu epidemic has occurred during winter months and is associated with about 144,000 hospitalizations and 20,000 deaths per year in the United States.

Locally, between September 2001 and last Wednesday, there were 206 influenza A and seven influenza B cases.

Based on the influenza surveillance report, the strains currently circulating locally are the Type A Panama strain and the Type B Sichuan strain. So far, 12 Type A Panama strain cases and two Type B Sichuan strain cases have been identified. Vaccinations are available in Hawaii for the two strains.

Vaccinations are critical for those suffering from an underlying disease such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. The flu shot takes about two weeks to become effective.

Health officials advised the public that it is not too late to get a influenza vaccination. Immunization makes it more difficult for the virus to spread in the community, Lau said.

Flu shots are available statewide. Call Ask Aloha United Way at 275-2000 for a list of clinics. Neighbor islands can call toll-free 877-275-6569.

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