H1N1 Update

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Dr. Bob England, Director of the Maricopa County Public Health Department, dispels myths and misinformation about the H1N1 flu virus.

Ted Simons: The state department of health services shows that many Arizonans are receiving inaccurate information about the H1N1 virus. Here with the facts is Dr. Bob England, director of the Maricopa County public health department. Thanks for joining us.

Bob England: Great to be here.

Ted Simons: Let's get the latest on the virus and the vaccine. What's new?

Bob England: Right now, it looks like we're on our way down a little bit, past the second wave of the epidemic but not all of our indicators look rosy, so it's going to be bumpy road down -- and this is only the second wave of the pandemic. If history is any guide, we should expect a third wave to come maybe as soon as our regular flu season starts in January. And that's important because regarding the vaccine, that's what has guided our strategy right now to push really hard on school-based vaccination. If we want to keep the disease from spreading as much as it has been when that third wave hits we need to get as many kids as possible immunized so they don't bounce it around to each other and spread it to the rest of the community.

Ted Simons: These kids are in and still are in the high-risk group, correct?

Bob England: Absolutely. From the beginning, we pushed the vaccine to those at the highest risk. Young kids and underlying health conditions and pregnant women and anyone caring for an infant who is too young themselves to be vaccinated and healthcare workers. We hit a point a couple weeks ago, where we had to make a decision are we going to keep the vaccine and pushing it that way and expand it to all children to try and prevent more spread of this disease and protect all of us by decreasing the amount of transmission in the community.

Ted Simons: And yet we keep hearing stories there's not enough vaccine. What's going on here?

Bob England: This has been the most frustrating process I've ever dealt with in my career. We've been allocated, meaning we're allowed to order each day less vaccine than we were led to believe originally might be coming. I'm not sure of all the reasons why. But it's been really frustrating for us to allocate it. And I know it's even more frustrating for healthcare providers who have to look their patients in the eye and say I don't have it yet or run out already and it's got to be frustrating who are seeking the vaccine. Who want it.

Ted Simons: Ok, so when do you think we're going to get what we need in terms of a vaccine?

Bob England: You know, we continue to push it out right now for the next few weeks to schools. We've got to finish the schools up before they go out for winter break, if that strategy of herd immunity and preventing transmission is going to work. We continue to push it out, otherwise we're hoping by the middle of December we should have enough to really hold some real public clinics with people whose providers aren't participating in this or people who don't have a provider can go and get vaccinated. We're hard at work at setting those up right now.

Ted Simons: Our last Cronkite Eight poll, 54% say they're not going to get the vaccine. They say it's unsafe and untested.

Bob England: You know this vaccine is made exactly the way every season's flu vaccine is made. The vaccine against the novel H1N1 virus is just as new as every year's flu vaccine is new. It's the same vaccine made toward a different strain of the virus. That's all. It makes no sense whatsoever to have someone answer on a poll, yeah, they'll get the regular season flu shot but not this one. Your odds are greater of getting the novel flu during a pandemic because there's more of it being transmitted around and no partial immunity in the population of slowing it down than the odds of getting the regular seasonal flu.

Ted Simons: And yet we hear stories, especially back in the '70s, when it came out, there was a problem with that vaccine.

Bob England: The reported problem was a syndrome called GUILLAINE-BERET that hit one in 100,000 people that got the vaccine. They stopped the program because that particular disease never showed up. Never turned into the pandemic that was predicted. This time, you've got a real disease, that's making a lot of people seriously ill balanced against that ever since that one year that caused the disease at a lower rate than the flu itself causes guillane-beret syndrome. You're better off getting the vaccine than getting the flu.

Ted Simons: Another myth is this isn't all that dangerous of a flu. It's just the flu. Is that a myth?

Bob England: You know, for the number of people, the rate at which people are dying, becoming seriously ill and dying, is about the same as you get with regular flu but it's hitting very different people. Half of our hospitalizations have been kids. That is way different from seasonal flu. About one in five of the deaths has been in kids. Most people who've gotten into serious trouble have underlying health conditions but they aren't things that people think of as being an underlying health condition. Pregnant women are at tremendously increased risk from this flu virus. Even compared to regular seasonal flu seasons. Kids with asthma, with diabetes, people with -- kids especially with neuromuscular disease are at extreme risk for serious complications of this. Yeah, the numbers may not seem off the charts, yeah, it's not 1918 all over again, but we still do need to pay attention to this and the people who are truly suffering this time around are younger. Older adults got to know, you still need your regular seasonal flu vaccine, and if you get this flu, any flu, contact your healthcare provider because you can get into serious trouble from this flu, just like you can seasonal flu. You're just much less likely to get sick in the first place.

Ted Simons: Alright, Dr. Bob, thanks for joining us.

Bob England: Thank you.

Dr. Bob England:Director of the Maricopa County Public Health Department;

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