Flu Season

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Flu season has started in Arizona. The Arizona Department of Health Services confirmed the first flu case of the season. Health Services director Will Humble will talk about the flu and what you can do to avoid it.

Ted Simons: The final determination on whether or not the referendum to appeal the election law makes next year's ballot is expected by the end of the month.

Ted Simons: State department of health services recently confirmed the season's first case of the flu. Here to talk about vaccination and other ways to stay healthy, Arizona health services director Will Humble joins me to talk about the flu season. How are you doing?

Will Humble: Good evening. Thanks for the invitation.

Ted Simons: We do it just about every year. We got our first confirmed case, talk to us, how old, how serious, what happened?

Will Humble: A couple cases, both kids, one down in Pima county, one in Maricopa County. They both will be OK, but it's the sort of sign that we're embarking on our flu season. It doesn't mean we're going to start peaking in October, like we did in 2009 with the pandemic, but it's the time to start thinking about getting your flu shots and there are so many different ways you can get your flu shot these days, at pharmacies and so forth, and there's more different kinds of vaccines than there's ever been before.

Ted Simons: I take it these patients were not vaccinated.

Will Humble: Well, they weren't vaccinated, and it's so early in the flu season, very few people are. Only 6% of Arizona are vaccinated so far, which is so early. That's not a disappointing number.

Ted Simons: When is the optimal time for vaccination?

Will Humble: Any time between now and, say, Thanksgiving is a great time. What we focus on is making sure people do it whenever it's convenient. So if you're in the pharmacy, have you a few extra minutes, you're with your kids, pharmacists can give the flu vaccine now to anybody 6 and over. So that's a great time. So seize the moment whenever you have a little bit of extra time, if you're a parent, if you're a senior, seize the moment, get the vaccine, whenever it's convenient. It's never too early and it's never really too late, but get it done.

Ted Simons: Let's get some parameters here. The flu season in Arizona extends from when to when?

Will Humble: Well, it's like the monsoon season. You know how they changed it on us? We sort of talk about October through March or April as the flu season. But it really peaks at a different time every year. So in 2009, it was going gang busters in October. Usually the flu season gets going after the holidays in, say, January or February. But it throws us a curve and we have flu season to kick off around Thanksgiving too. So you can never really predict.

Ted Simons: Why does it seem like it always hits this time of year? Is it the weather, is it people congregating together more? How come we don't have a flu season in July?

Will Humble: You know, they've studied that over and over, and there's- Believe it or not there's no definitive answer exactly why. It's definitely seasonal all across the world. It definitely peaks in the winter season, both in the northern and southern hemisphere. Interestingly in the tropics, you see influenza going back and forth all year long, so they have similar number of cases, but it's spread throughout the whole year. So seems like it gets its host one way or the other no matter where you live.

Ted Simons: What are you looking at for this time? And how do you forecast such a thing?

Will Humble: So the good news is, here's how we forecast. We look at the southern hemisphere's flu season. So they're just finishing their winter just like we're starting into our fall. So we look at the circulating strains and say, Argentina, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, southern hemisphere countries, and then you craft the North American vaccine so that it matches those strains that are circulating in the southern hemisphere. The good news this year is that the strains that are in this year's flu vaccine, the antigens, are a perfect match for what's circulating in the southern hemisphere. That means when you get your flu shot, it's going to match most likely what starts going around whenever flu season really kicks in in the next month or two or three.

Ted Simons: How many strains are we talking about here?

Will Humble: Most of the vaccines have three antigens, which means it covers you for three different kinds of influenza viruses. This year there's a new vaccine that's just on the market that has four antigens in it. So most of them are three, but one of them is four. You asked, so I'm telling.

Ted Simons: So what happens if I take the three and the fourth one winds up clobbering me?

Will Humble: Most likely- If you get the vaccine with three, you'll be covered. The vaccine that has the fourth antigen, it's a B strain, which usually doesn't cause epidemic numbers of cases, that's usually the A strains. So short answer is, no matter what kind you get, you're better off than you are without a shot.
Ted Simons: OK. I know a lot of folks in Arizona think that they just are fine without a shot. Talk about vaccination rates, and where you see the most coverage, where you don't see as much coverage, and again, the communal aspect of all this. You're not getting a shot just for you, you're getting a shot so you're not a typhoid Ted.

Will Humble: That's- The real reason we have public health vaccination programs is not to protect individually you or you or me. It's to protect communities of people. And the more people you get vaccinated, the harder it is for the virus to find a host. So what we really try to do is increase those vaccination rates across the board, especially amongst those folks that spread the virus the most. That's kids. Especially elementary school kids, and kids in preschool. So our focus year in and year out is to get the vaccination rates up in the toddler and elementary school population. Seniors by the way are pretty good at getting their vaccine on their own. They're highly motivated. Above 70% last year for seniors. So we don't have to focus on them so much. They know it's a good idea for them. The harder challenge is getting young families to recognize that this is about community protection, not just to protect your individual kid.

Ted Simons: There are concerns out there, there are things on the internet that you read, there are stories that have been told, there are case studies where some folks react poorly, or there might be something in the vaccine that they're not crazy about. Talk to us about that.

Will Humble: Well, there's no shortage of things you can read on the internet. Most of it is hogwash. The truth is, flu vaccines are among the safest, highest return on investment public health tools we have. Very, very safe, protects people from a pretty serious disease, and protects communities of people. The biggest side effect that is a sore arm, which, you know, OK, a sore arm. It's not a big deal. When you consider the payback is a much healthier community.

Ted Simons: OK. So in terms of the state- I asked this before. Are there areas where vaccination rates are higher areas, where they're not so high?

Will Humble: Yes. So let's transition off the flu for just a second. One of the things we're concerned about right now is this pertussis whooping cough epidemic that's really been going on for the last few years in Arizona. What we see is a trend towards increasing cases, especially in those communities that have low vaccination rates. And what we generally see by the way are that high income ZIP codes are the ZIP codes that are most likely to have the lowest vaccination rates for those childhood vaccines. Parents are choosing to intentionally not vaccinate their kids. Again, something they saw on the internet, etc., so it's an increasing problem. It's called vaccine exemptions, in other words, where parents intentionally don't vaccinate their kids and sign the exemption form for school. We're seeing problems in certain ZIP codes, Sedona is the ZIP code in Arizona with the lowest vaccination rate for little kids. It's not because they're uninsured, but the parents are choosing not to vaccinate their kid. It doesn't just put their kid at risk, it puts the entire community at risk, especially special needs kids who might be in those schools.

Ted Simons: Interesting. All right. And real quickly, you talked about whooping cough, what are you seeing? Is that especially bad this year? It sounds like it's not doing too well.

Will Humble: It's been bad for about two years. This is the longest epidemic of whooping cough I've seen in my 25 years or so in public health. It's usually pretty cyclical, it comes and goes. But it's pretty persistent this time. It's not all across the state. It's in pockets. Colorado city is another pocket we have of whooping cough. So the solution is simple- It's just keep your kid on their vaccination schedule. And if you're anybody, go out and get your flu shot. You are just doing the right thing. Do what you would want everyone else to do.

Ted Simons: Basically you can get these things at the corner, if you can- You can get them all over. These are the right ones you're getting, it's not a fly by night?

Will Humble: It's super convenient now. It used to be you had to find your flu shot, make an appointment with your doctor, etc. Pharmacies do it now. And there's or 13 or 14 different choices of different kinds of vaccines. And a really good supply. So it's not hard to find anymore.

Ted Simons: All right. Will, good to have you. Thanks for joining us.

Will Humble: Thanks.

Will Humble:Director, Health Services;

Author Bill Bryson

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