Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome To "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Public health officials say cases of the flu are on the Rise in Arizona. The state's flu activity is now at its highest category level. Here with an update of where We stand with the flu this winter is Dr. Bob England, director of the Maricopa County department of public health. Good to see you again.
Dr. Bob England: You always have me on for bad news. The flu happens every year, but all flu seasons are not created equal. This year it is hitting earlier, rising more quickly than it usually does, and at least anecdotally a lot of people are getting walloped.
Ted Simons: Compared to previous years do we know why?
Dr. Bob England: You can't really predict the flu. We be hoping that it will peak quickly and fall fast. It does that sometimes. Sometimes it has a much more prolonged course. We have to wait and see.
Ted Simons: If it starts earlier, it doesn't necessarily mean it will end earlier.
Dr. Bob England: I wish I could say that, but you can't bank on that.
Ted Simons: Compare what we are going through to other regions and why do some regions seem to be getting hit harder than others?
Dr. Bob England: You know, the flu gets around eventually to most places. It typically starts in the east first, in our country. And then seems to move through and we in the west get it a little later. That is what happens almost every year. That's what is happening this time, except it is a little more compressed. We usually don't, you know, head for our peak until later, a few weeks down the road at least.
Ted Simons: I guess maybe a simple question, but I will ask it anyway, why does it always seem to hit in the winter? It is the flu after all.
Dr. Bob England: That is a great question. I wish I knew the answer to that. There are lots of theories. Theories about cold weather, but you know what? Our winter, maybe not tonight, but our winter is generally warmer than some places summer. And we -- it hits the same time of the year for us as well. Theories about relative humidity, theories about the holidays and people getting together and intermixing more.
Ted Simons: Could it possibly be because of the cold weather, your immune system is working overtime to fight off colds and keeping warm --
Dr. Bob England: It is true that certain things circulate -- health care facilities all over are very busy. It is not all the flu. There is a lot of other stuff. There is a lot of other viruses that go around at the same time of the year. But when you throw the flu in on top of it, our health care system can get pretty overwhelmed pretty quickly.
Ted Simons: How can you prevent catching the flu?
Dr. Bob England: Number one, two, and three is get your flu vaccine. It is not an ideal vaccine by any means. It is not perfect. But it's way better than not having it and it is better protection than most. In addition, if you are into this time of the year and you were not vaccinated or even if you were, since the vaccine isn't perfect, common sense measures, washing your hands. Keep your hands away from your face. If I'm coming down with the flu an and I have lots of flu germs and I picked my nose, blew my nose and shook your hand, the worse thing in the world is to put that hand up to your face, eyes, nose.
Ted Simons: Families, one person is sick with the flu, how does that person keep from --
Dr. Bob England: From giving it to everybody else?
Ted Simons: Yeah, everybody else in the family.
Dr. Bob England: Again, hand washing. Cover your cough. We like to teach people to cough into their elbows. Little kids shed virus more and longer than adults do. In fact, the schools are really the place where it gets off and running every year. It starts in the schools. Great outbreaks there and they bring it home to the rest of us.
Ted Simons: There is something called this herd immune kind of activity. In schools, especially, that really applies.
Dr. Bob England: Absolutely. We are missing a golden opportunity. We have a flu vaccine that admittedly isn't perfect, but it is pretty darn good. And if you could get a lot of people, almost everybody immunized, then you -- that germ, that one person's germ has a hard time finding the next person to jump to. And if it does find one more person, it has a hard time finding the next person from there to jump to. So, you get protected, because you never get exposed. Outbreaks can't happen. Your vaccines protection never gets tested, because the germs just don't bounce around and expose so many people. That's why all of those formerly very common childhood diseases are mostly memory is and happen so uncommonly now. It's not because the vaccines are perfect, but it is because we get enough people immunized, like the school immunization requirements.
Ted Simons: It’s like a good offensive line protecting the quarterback, you never get there.
Dr. Bob England: Who get in trouble the most with flus often the very old. If we could vaccinate 80% of school kids so that it didn't build in our community and they didn't bring it home to grandma and grandpa, we would take more than 90% of the flu away from everybody else.
Ted Simons: Where can you get a flu shot?
Dr. Bob England: All over the place still. Some of the mass immunizers have ended their season. Sent their flu vaccine home. But there is plenty of flu vaccine in the valley. Find out where you can get some and go get it. Understand one thing, though, it is never too late to get a flu shot. But it takes a couple of weeks at least to build antibodies to the vaccine. So, if you get your vaccine now and you get sick within the next couple of weeks, it wasn't because the shot didn't work, it was because you put it off too long so that it couldn't protect you before you were exposed. Next year, get it sooner.
Ted Simons: Good to have you here. Thank you for joining us.
Dr. Bob England: Thank you.