Flu hotline set up in Arizona

A telephone information line about the flu is available for Arizona residents starting today.

The telephone number is 602-364-4500. Outside the Phoenix metropolitan area, the toll-free information line number is 800-314-9243.

Recorded information on the line will be updated regularly throughout flu season in both English and Spanish. Information includes updates on the vaccine shortage, the high-risk groups that should receive the vaccine this year, and other information about the flu including its symptoms and steps people can take to avoid getting the flu.

Catherine Eden, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, said, "The phone information line will allow the public to access information about the flu 24 hours a day." However, people should not rely on the information line to self-diagnose the flu. Rather, if they believe they have symptoms of the flu, they should seek assistance from their health care providers.

The same type of telephone information line was used effectively to distribute information about West Nile Virus. Information about other health issues is included on the information line.

No cases of the flu have been reported to date this fall in Arizona. The typical flu season begins in November and lasts through March.

"There is no way to predict what type of flu season we are going to have here in Arizona this year," Eden said. She said healthy adults not in the recommended vaccination categories should forego getting a flu vaccination this year and urged people to practice good hygiene and common sense.

"Wash your hands frequently, cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze and stay home if you become ill," Eden said.

Those who should be vaccinated include:

• Adults over age 65.

• All children 6 months through 23 months of age.

• Persons age 2-64 with chronic health conditions, such as heart and lung diseases and asthma and diabetes, and people with weakened immune systems.

• All women who will be pregnant during flu season.

• Residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

• Children 6 months-18 years of age on chronic aspirin therapy.

• Health-care workers with direct patient care.

Out-of-home caregivers and household contacts of children aged 6 months and younger.

Healthy individuals age 5-49 this year may also use FluMist, the first nasally administered influenza vaccine to be marketed in the United States. FluMist is not approved for use in the high-risk populations for which influenza vaccine is most recommended. Additional information is available at www.flumist.com.

For information about where to go for flu shots if you are in one of the high risk categories, contact the Community Information and Referral Hotline in Metro Phoenix at (602) 263-8856 or (800) 352-3792 for the rest of the state. You may also go to www.cir.org. For general recorded information about influenza season and protection measures.

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