It may not be "the flu," but whatever it is, it's widespread and it is making the Christmas blahs a physical ordeal.
Schools are a good indication of problems in the general population. The Cottonwood Oak Creek School district says that 9 percent of its student population (235 students) was out of school this week, many are thought to be sick with what may be passing for "the flu." Superintendent Julie Larson said that number is "exceedingly high ... the kids are sick and the teachers are dropping like flies."
School Nurse Debbie Randall says there is a lot of vomiting, sore throats and significant temperatures.
The Camp Verde School District closed for the Christmas break Thursday. But even staff at the Verde Valley Medical Center is calling in sick.
Karen Smith, who oversees infectious diseases at VVMC, said only one true case of influenza has been identified this year in Yavapai County of 388 cases across the state. But she said many people are suffering symptoms of a respiratory disorder.
True influenza, according to Smith, has symptoms of fever for several days, chest congestion and the production of sputum, all that nasty stuff that builds and is coughed out of the lungs. A flu sufferer also typically has muscle aches and is unable to take food or fluids.
People will often find something over the counter to deal with upper respiratory problems, but if it goes on for more than a few days, accompanied by a low-grade fever, Smith said, you should see a doctor.
Yavapai County Health Director Marcia Jacobsen pointed out that when monitoring infectious diseases you typically only see the tip of iceberg. She said statistics are only developed for those who are physically sick enough to go to a doctor and get blood work done.
Both said they are hearing a lot of reports of illness this time of year. According to Jacobsen, the flu typically strikes during January and February in Arizona. But she said there are many reports of headaches. Those headaches may be linked to allergy and sinus problems that have flared due to extremely dry conditions this year.
It will sound like typical advice when Karen Smith says people should drink lots of fluid. But, if they continue to get worse, they should see a doctor. Viruses are treated differently than bacterial disease, according to the specialist. She said you don't want to see a spike in temperature or the sputum or phlegm changing color and getting harder to clear.
Jacobsen also repeats the advice to wash your hands frequently, cover your mouth when you cough and stay home when ill.
"Many people do not take advice to stay at home with infections," Smith said. "People at work will be running low-grade fevers and shedding infections to co-workers days before deciding to remain at home. By then, the infection has already multiplied to co-workers."
The problem is especially serious once it's carried into a school. "Especially in school setting, kids are not attentive about washing their hands," Smith said. "They would cut down the number of viruses available for infection if they would wash their hands and properly dispose of tissues properly."
A Catch-22 is that many parents cannot afford to stay at home with children or provide day care, so they continue to send children to school when they are ill.
The county health director said there is no reason to believe that this year will be a particularly hard-hitting flu season. There have been two pediatric deaths in the United States so far this year. But Jacobsen said up to 30,000 each year die of flu in the United States.