If you’re traveling through Arizona this weekend — or even exposing yourself to new germs from extended family at Thanksgiving dinner — don’t forget to wash your hands.
Even better, the state health department says, make a stop on your way out of town to get your annual flu shot.
That’s especially important this year, according to the department, because Arizona is seeing an abnormally early spike in flu activity this year.
“This is a much earlier season than just about every other season that we’ve been tracking,” Jessica Rigler, assistant director for public health preparedness at the Arizona Department of Health Services, told Phoenix New Times.
Rigler said the state has already recorded 950 laboratory-confirmed influenza cases this season, more than three times the 290 cases recorded at the same time in 2018. The number of cases has doubled weekly since the start of the season in September, Rigler said. There's also an early prevalence of influenza B, which usually doesn't emerge until later in the season.
Another warning sign of a potentially severe season ahead is the fact that more than half the cases reported so far this year have been in children, according to ADHS. Kids are “better germ spreaders” than adults, and could infect more people, Rigler said.
Some people may think it’s too late to get a flu vaccine, but it’s not, according to ADHS.
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“The best protection against the flu is the flu vaccine,” Rigler said, and the sooner you get it, the better.
Unfortunately, getting the flu shot now may not protect you from the cesspool of germs you’ll encounter around friends or relatives this Thanksgiving holiday, since it takes about two weeks for the vaccine to build up your immunity. So, before you share a glass to sample the Thanksgiving wine or shake hands with new acquaintances before eating, it’s worth thinking twice.
But Rigler said getting the shot now is still valuable, because it will start building your immunity right away, and it’s a good idea to get protected for the rest of the season ahead. ADHS data shows 5 to 20 percent of Arizonans get the flu each year, and an average of 700 people in the state die from the virus annually.
There are online tools to help residents find out how to get vaccinated. ADHS has flu information available on its website and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a free FluFinder tool that shows which clinics are administering the vaccine in your area.