The flu has turned deadly in Arizona, with at least one adult and one pediatric death being reported in Yuma County. State health officials say it is widespread in the highest category possible. Jessica Rigler, Bureau Chief for the State Bureau of Epidemiology and Disease control, will give us a flu update.
Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon," health officials warn that the flu is widespread across the state. We'll have the latest. Also, an update on global climate change policy, with a former advisor to two Prime Ministers. And we'll find out where Arizona stands on roadway safety laws. Those stories next on "Arizona Horizon."
Narrator: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.
Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. The flu has turned deadly with one adult and one pediatric death reported in Yuma County. To talk about how hard it is hitting Arizona, we have Jessica Rigler, bureau chief for the state bureau of epidemiology and disease control. Good to have you here and thanks for joining us.
Jessica Rigler: Thank you for having me.
Ted Simons: So how hard is Arizona getting hit?
Jessica Rigler: We're reporting widespread at all time levels like you have said. So we're seeing flu all over the state currently.
Ted Simons: And the widespread level, is that like the highest level that you can get?
Jessica Rigler: It is the highest level you can get, yes.
Ted Simons: So compared to last year what are you seeing?
Jessica Rigler: We had more cases at this time last year than we do this year. About 40 percent more cases, actually. And, and the thing this year is that it seems like the flu is more severe. It's hitting people more severely this year.
Ted Simons: Interesting, and is it higher, maybe than -- you look at five-year averages and stuff, higher than the five-year average?
Jessica Rigler: No, we're lower than we typically expect to be at this time.
Ted Simons: So basically, it sounds as though it's there, not as much but hitting harder, is that because of the flu strain?
Jessica Rigler: It could be. It's hard to say before we look back at the season, but right now the strain that's circulating is the same H1N1 strain we saw in 2009, and that strain hits folks in the adult age group 18-49 about to harder than it does in the youngsters, or at the senior population.
Ted Simons: I seem to remember back, with the swine flu we're talking about?
Jessica Rigler: That's correct.
Ted Simons: We talked about this back in the day. They were saying some older folks had been, you know, exposed to this, and that's why that younger generation, that particular age group, was getting hit harder. Does that make sense?
Jessica Rigler: We have seen literature to support that back from an outbreak, in 1976 that may suggest what you are saying is true. We don't know for sure.
Ted Simons: So you, if you were exposed, a better chance to avoid it this time?
Jessica Rigler: That's right.
Ted Simons: Best chance to avoid is still the flu shot?
Jessica Rigler: Getting vaccinated. We want folks to go out and get their flu shot, that's going to be the best protection.
Ted Simons: Is that flu shot, the vaccine, is it, is it addressing H1N1 or something similar?
Jessica Rigler: The H1N1 virus circulating is included in this year's shot. So the shot this year is really a good match for all the strains circulating currently.
Ted Simons: Are you seeing some areas hit harder than others in Arizona?
Jessica Rigler: Right now it's widespread.
Ted Simons: So rural, urban? No real -- is that unusual to not see a differential?
Jessica Rigler: From week to week we might but once you get into a the peak where you see it, it's normal to see it all over.
Ted Simons: And as far as the flu, itself, it just seems as though every year it happens. Ok. And I'm wondering, is it happening earlier? It seems like February, and maybe into March, we're talking about this, we're into February, and obviously, but it's early. Seems kind of early.
Jessica Rigler: You know, the one thing that we like to say is that the only thing predictable about the flu is that it's unpredictable so we expect it to start sometime in late September or early October, and to last into may, but, where that peak happens, and where you are seeing the number of cases, that can vary, January, February, and March, it's really different every year.
Ted Simons: And are you thinking that the peak hasn't happened yet?
Jessica Rigler: It's so hard to say. Some of our reports come in later than they were diagnosed. Right now we're on the upward swing and we could turn that corner and go down. We have seen states in the southeast start, start turning the corner and going down and seeing a decrease in cases. But, it's really too soon to tell.
Ted Simons: As far as Arizona and the rest of the country, do we follow a pattern? Do you see it first in the northeast, southeast, northwest, and then Arizona? How does that work?
Jessica Rigler: Every year is different, and, and so, you cannot look at one year and say the next one will be the same.
Ted Simons: Can you look at the weather? It's been a relatively mild winter. Does that make a difference?
Jessica Rigler: There is theories out there that where it's colder and people are congregated closer together indoors you may get more rapid spread of flu and maybe a higher number of cases. But, we're seeing cases in Arizona, and you know it's beautiful out here now. So, it's, it's tough to say there, as well.
Ted Simons: It's probably an old wives' tale but when the weather is bad and cold, people get colds and the flu.
Jessica Rigler: Not a lot of cold weather, and I don't think that it's really related to the temperature as much as the congregation of folks in an indoor environment.
Ted Simons: As far as the vaccine is concerned, still, you can still get the vaccine, the flu shot, why equity?
Jessica Rigler: That's right.
Ted Simons: Should you still get the flu shot?
Jessica Rigler: We would say yes. From the state Health Department perspective, it is important to get yourself protected if you are not already. I would caution it takes two weeks for the body to build the immunity, so if you get it today, you can't expect to have immunity until two weeks. If you come into contact with the flu between now and two weeks, it is possible you will get it.
Ted Simons: And especially in the age group, that demographic that it is getting hit the hardest by this H1N1 is probably the group that doesn't get flu shots.
Jessica Rigler: Right, it has a lower number of shots than the rest of the population.
Ted Simons: Good information and good to have you here, and thanks for joining us.
Jessica Rigler: Thank you very much.
Jessica Rigler:Bureau Chief, State Bureau of Epidemiology and Disease control