Influenza hits Juneau

Lesser illnesses also found in town

Posted: Tuesday, December 11, 2001

Flu season has begun in Juneau, but not everything you think is flu, is.

"Since Nov. 28, we have had 11 emergency room flu diagnoses," said Marijo Toner, communications manager for Bartlett Regional Hospital.

Only one of these diagnoses was substantiated, according to the state virology laboratory. The state epidemiology office, which oversees the lab, does not count flu cases unless they are proven by tests. But many diagnoses are made without testing, health officials said.

The precaution of flu shots may be keeping the numbers down, health officials said.

"I think people have been good about getting flu vaccine," said Kate Slotnick, a nurse with the Juneau Public Health Center. "We have only the one case of influenza A. Of course, there is a certain amount of underreporting because if you don't go in and get tested, there is no case to be counted."

The one case of flu substantiated from Juneau was a case of influenza A/Panama contracted by a 45-year-old woman tested at Bartlett, said Don Ritter, manager of the state virology lab in Fairbanks.

Anchorage mostly has passed through the flu, and tests are now showing the spread of opportunistic illnesses such as adenoid infections, which take advantage of weakened immune systems after the flu has passed, Ritter said Monday.

Like Slotnick, Ritter suspects Juneau has more flu cases, but residents are not being tested.

"I tell people you won't be Superman after getting flu vaccine," Slotnick said. "It doesn't protect you from everything, and there are some nasty viruses going around - but they are not flu."

Doctors' officers, nonprofit groups and stores have been providing flu shots.

Kelly Bani-Saaid, medical assistant with the Juneau Medical Clinic, said her office has seen a steady flow of people coming in for its $8 flu shots.

"We have had a lot of ill people, but no true flus," Bani-Saaid said. "We've seen cases of severe vomiting, coughs that stay around for weeks, sore and swollen throats, increased temperatures, body aches - typical things, but we have not seen any real flus."

During flu season, the state epidemiology office maintains an influenza surveillance report on its Web site. The report, last updated Dec. 4, lists 451 confirmed cases of influenza statewide. Most of them, 406 cases, occurred in the greater Anchorage area. The only proven Southeast Alaska case listed was the 45-year-old woman tested at Juneau's hospital.

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at achandonnet@juneauempire.com.



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