Arizona Physician

Arizona Physician

Unpredictable, not unbeatable: Flu in Arizona

By Lisa Villarroel, MD MPH, Medical Director of Epidemiology and Disease Control, Arizona Department of Health Services

Flu is unpredictable.

Flu peaks every February, except when it peaks in March (2015-2016). Flu hits the very young and very old, except when it hits the younger and middle-aged (2013-2014). Flu can be prevented by vaccination, except when it drifts from the vaccine (2014-2015).

Flu in Arizona is unpredictable.

Arizona flu season follows the national trend except when it starts later and runs longer (2010-2011). Arizona flu rates reflect the national picture except when Arizona is the highest in the nation (2015-2016). Arizona mirrors national flu vaccination rates, except when it’s 49th lowest (2012-2013).

Clinicians can still fight against this unpredictable foe. 

  • Know what flu looks like in Arizona, specifically. For example, last year’s flu season ran late and severe, with Arizona having the highest rate of illness in the country. Make the weekly state flu report a favorite link: gov/preparedness/epidemiology-disease-control/flu/index.php#surveillance-home.
  • Do not be complacent about giving flu shots. Arizona is among the lowest flu coverage states in the nation, and ICUs have anecdotally reported that their severe flu patients are unvaccinated. Administer vaccinations in a clinic or recommend another local site: 211arizona.org.
  • Do not depend on rapid flu tests. Because false-negative results are more likely during flu season, significant clinical decisions cannot be made based on a negative RIDT alone. See this and other new studies on the Arizona Infectious Disease Mobile app (IDAZ), created for Arizona clinicians: in the App Store and Google Play.
  • Call Arizona public health if something is off during flu season. Public health is a resource for consultation and testing. If there appear to be higher rates of secondary pneumonia, resistance to antivirals, preferential attacks on patients with certain morbidities, or more, contact the local health department: azdhs.gov/localhealth.

The only predictable thing about flu is its harm to Arizonans (last season: over 23,000 lab-confirmed cases and 880 related deaths). Clinicians, keep up the fight!

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