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Summer Flu on the Rise in Bering Strait and Across Alaska

Even though summer is getting underway, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services is asking doctors and healthcare providers to be on the lookout for the flu.

Dr. Michael Cooper works on infectious diseases with the state section of epidemiology. He says Alaska is seeing more summer flu than normal in several pockets around the state, including Nome.

“It’s a little bit increased from what you’d expect. We shouldn’t be getting as many small clusters or as many reports of positive flu tests coming out of different areas in June. It’s just a little bit unusual,” Cooper explained. “And that’s why we thought it was important to just remind providers that they should be thinking flu.”

The number of confirmed influenza cases includes continued spread of flu outside the traditional season, flu associated with summer travelers to Alaska on cruise ships and other tours, and at least one outbreak in a long-term care facility in Alaska.

According to Public Health Nurse Deanna Mocan in Nome, there hasn’t been too much local concern.

“We certainly haven’t seen an increase, I guess, of clients requesting flu vaccines since we’ve seen an increase of illness in our community,” Mocan said.

Health officials say protecting against summer flu is the same as any flu, emphasizing the need for washing hands, staying home if you’re sick, and getting immunized as a preventative measure.

But Mocan says current stocks of this year’s vaccine expire June 30. Health officials say new vaccine isn’t likely to reach healthcare providers until the end of the summer. That means if the current cluster of flu cases in Nome and elsewhere around the state continues to rise, doctors, nurses and patients could be without a key tool for combating influenza.

For the next weeks in Nome, though, there’s still plenty of vaccine for those wanting to take preventative measures.

“We have the influenza 2013-2014 influenza vaccine available here at public health for children who are six months of age and older, and adults,” Mocan explained. “And Norton Sound Regional Hospital also has flu vaccine available, as well.

DHSS says the flu vaccines is especially recommended for groups at high-risk for influenza, including children, the elderly, as well as Alaska Natives and American Indians.