ANCHORAGE - State health officials are reporting about 125 Alaskans sick with influenza, more encounters this early in the flu season than in recent years.
"This is just an unusual flu season," said Karen Trottier, clinical supervisor for the emergency room at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage.
The first flu cases were reported in Fairbanks about three weeks ago. Anchorage and the Mat-Su area reported about 90. No Juneau cases have been reported to state officials so far. All cases are influenza type A, a strain contained in this year's vaccine.
Two seasons ago, numbers didn't climb this high until late January.
"We're more likely to see flu in December, and even more in January and February," said Dr. Beth Funk, state medical epidemiologist.
As of Friday, no official cases of flu had been reported in Southeast Alaska, said Kathy Miller, nurse manager of the Juneau Public Health Center.
"There may be quick tests being done in doctors' offices, but they are not cultured out and reported to the division. So as far as I know, we still have a zero for Southeast," Miller said this morning.
No flu cases have been reported on the emergency room logs at Bartlett Regional Hospital, said Marijo Toner, communications manager.
Initially, health officials wondered whether numbers could be up elsewhere in Alaska because of a nationwide anthrax scare, since the early symptoms of both are similar. But local physicians said it's simply an early flu season.
Trottier said flu this year is infecting people of all ages, requiring emergency room staffs to operate at capacity.
"The flu season has put a strain on all the emergency rooms in the area," Trottier said.
All of the testing has kept state health officials busy.
The state's allocation of 80,000 doses of flu vaccine is here, Funk said, and in the hands of medical providers.
Those most at risk for complications from flu are encouraged by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to get flu vaccine shots. Those include people 65 and older, residents of nursing homes and other chronic-care facilities, those with pulmonary or cardiovascular disorders, children receiving long-term aspirin therapy, and women in the second or third trimester of pregnancy.
Empire reporter Ann Chandonnet contributed to this report.