Flu cases surge in Arizona

- This flu season is off to an intense start. So far, it is showing no signs of slowing down.

In Arizona, there are more than 11,000 confirmed flu cases. and likely thousands of others that are not confirmed. This year, the H3N2 strain is spreading fast, and appears to be more widespread and potent than last year.

The emergency room at Maricopa Medical Center is overrun with patients. They don't have enough beds, and some are being treated in hallways.

Many of these patients are here because of the flu.

According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, 90% of confirmed flu patients so far this year are infected with the H3N2 strain. Doctors say the strain is not new, but may have mutated.

"The flu virus changed, it mutated. Not a different strain, but it's a different type," said Dr. Dan Quan.

Arizona has recorded one child flu death due so far, and two other deaths are under investigation.
The state does not track the number of adult flu deaths, but Pinal County is reporting eight flu deaths, so far.

"Every year, there are still a number of people that die from flu, and they can be healthy individuals," said Dr. Quan.

Recently, a 20-year-old mother and a 17-year-old boy are suspected to have died from the flu. Families of both report they were healthy, with no underlying medical conditions, leading up to their sudden deaths.

This particular type of H3N2 has infected more people earlier, and spread faster, than in years past.

"Mutation in the virus, it happens all the time," said Dr. Quan. "It's how we get different strains."

An average of 700 Arizonans die from flu and pneumonia every year. It was the 11th leading cause of death in the state in 2016. The last time Arizona saw a surge in flu cases and deaths was in 2009, when the H1N1 strain broke out, which led to the deaths of over 900 Arizonans.

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