SALT LAKE CITY — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the flu is now widespread in 47 states.
In its latest report, the Utah Department of Health said there have been 66 new confirmed cases of the flu requiring hospitalization between Jan. 6 and Jan. 12, bringing the state's total to 364 so far this flu season.
Some people are having a hard time finding a location with flu shots available, while others can't find a pharmacy with Tamiflu in stock.
Doctors say the best defense against the flu is the flu shot, and it's not too late to get protection from the virus. But finding a location with the vaccine could be difficult.
Erin Fox, director of drug information at the University of Utah, said the severity of the flu fluctuates from year to year, and that is one of the issues driving demand. Because last year's flu season was mild, some pharmacies didn't order quite as much this year — and many people didn't think they needed a flu shot until now.
The state health department has an online vaccination locator to help people find a facility that has the vaccine in stock.
Other things to prevent the spread of the virus include hand-washing with soap and water, or using an alcohol-based hand rub; avoiding contact with sick people; staying home for at least 24 hours after fever is gone if sick with flu-like illness; and covering the nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
Search for Tamiflu frustrating for some
Those who are sick with the flu are having a hard time tracking down the medication to treat it. Many Utahns have been forced to go from pharmacy to pharmacy in search of prescription Tamiflu.
"All three of my kids have the flu, so I tried to get the Tamiflu prescription filled for them at a few different pharmacies," Mabelline Gonzalez said. "The pharmacies called around to see if their other pharmacies had it, and no one was able to find it for me."
Jolley's Compounding Pharmacy at 8822 S. Redwood Road has come to the rescue for many patients.
"I finally called over to Jolley's Pharmacy, which just happens to be very convenient, across the street from work," Gonzalez said. "They were able to compound that for me so that I could get it for my kids same day and get them started on that."
"There is some supply, but it's being allocated to the pharmacies," owner Dean Jolley said.
Some insurance companies may require preauthorization for Tamilfu.
Investigational drug stops flu in its tracks
Current anti-viral drugs interrupt chemicals in the respiratory cells, preventing the virus from escaping and infecting other cells. But a new investigational mist pulls off a first-line attack.
According to Dr. James Peterson, who oversees the clinical trials at Salt Lake's Foothill Family Clinic, the "study drug has a different target."
"It's going after the mechanism that allows the virus to attach itself to the cell, which means the virus can't get in in the first place," Peterson said. "This is a new approach, and it's one reason the compound is on a fast track with the government and others who are supporting the research."
The drug is crushed, then inhaled within 48 hours after the first symptoms appear. Each volunteer must test positive for influenza. They return to the clinic each day for three separate doses and follow-up exams.
Tiffany Alger was infected with influenza A, even though she had a flu shot. Peterson said that's becoming a common problem.
"We're seeing a surprising number of patients who were vaccinated and are still affected by the virus," he said. "We think the vaccine is not a perfect match with strains that are coming through the area."
Alger said she noticed improvement after the first dose on the new drug.
"Last night after my first dosing, my cough had improved, as well as the irritation in my chest," she said.
After three doses, Derek Peterson dramatically recovered. He was really sick. In fact, initially, he could hardly make it to north Foothill Clinic for his first treatment.
"I mean, I curled up in a ball in a fetal position, just miserable," he said. "I was like that the entire first day."
It appears to work against a variety of influenzas, including bird flu and the so-called para-influenza bugs. Since the compound is a derivative from natural human flora, the mist produces no allergic reactions.
If the third-stage clinical trials prove out, the FDA could approve the compound within the year under its "fast-track" program. The Utah study group is looking for more volunteers to test the new drug. For more information go to www.jlewisresearch.com or call 801-480-9392.
Contributing: Jennifer Stagg and Carole Mikita