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With flu widespread across Idaho, can we expect a second wave?

Associated Press
Flu remains widespread in every corner of Idaho.

Idaho is still seeing very high flu activity in the state and the Centers for Disease Control says that many flu seasons have a second wave. In good news, the H3N2 strain of influenza which has been detected in about 80% of flu cases across the nation is a good target for this year's flu vaccine.

“According to the Centers for Disease Control, they’re looking at the genetic components. And so far, they appear to be very closely matched with components in this year's vaccine. So that sounds like very good news,” said Dr. Leslie Tengelsen, State Influenza Surveillance Coordinator at the Department of Health and Welfare, who is anxious to see a soon-to-be-issued vaccine efficacy seasonal analysis. “So we're feeling quite optimistic that the efficacy paper will show a positive good vaccine for this year.”

Tengelsen visited Morning Edition host George Prentice to review the latest data and why it’s never really too late to get a flu shot.

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It's Morning Edition. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. More than 100 million Americans traveled through the holiday period at the end of last year. The beginning of this year. That means, well, more of us in the presence of others, presumably in closed quarters or large gatherings. And the risk of transmitting a virus was measurably higher. How might that manifest in the coming days and weeks? While one of the first people to know will undoubtedly be Dr. Leslie Tengelsen at the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare? Dr. Tengelsen, good morning.

DR. LESLIE TENGELSEN: Good morning, George. Thank you for having me.

PRENTICE: And Dr. Tengelsen is the State Influenza Surveillance Coordinator. First off, before the holidays in Idaho, flu was spread statewide, is that correct?

TENGELSEN: That is correct. And it continues to be very high. Statewide, we're seeing indicators of flu activity in all corners.

PRENTICE: What are we learning about this year's strain?

TENGELSEN: Well, influenza A - and there is influenza A's and influenza B's. Influenza A is the predominant type that we're seeing across the state and across the country. And there's two kinds of influenza. H 3 N 2, which is showing up about 80% of the time. And in H 1 N 1. We're seeing about 20% of viruses showing up as the second version. The H3N2, as I mentioned, is the most common that we're seeing. And according to the Centers for Disease Control or CDC, they are looking at the genetic components of those viruses. And so far, they appear to be very closely matched with components in this year's vaccine. So that sounds like very good news.

PRENTICE: Well, let's jump right to that then. Not enough people have been immunized. I think that's fair to say. I'm going to guess that you and your colleagues talk about this all the time. What works as far as getting the message out, as far as the effectiveness? And one of the things that that I guess that really works is the information you just shared… and the fact that this year's vaccine matches the strain that is most predominant.

TENGELSEN: So far, it appears to be that way. It generally in February or so of every year, the CDC publishes what they call a vaccine effectiveness or efficacy study document. And that so that hasn't come out yet for this year. But in the laboratory, when they look at the genetic sequence of the virus, it does appear very similar to what has been produced in the vaccine. So we're feeling quite optimistic that the vaccine efficacy paper will show a positive good vaccine for this year.

PRENTICE: I think I know the answer to this, and that is it's never too late to get a vaccine.

TENGELSEN: No, it's not. In fact, I was just reviewing the information nationwide versus Idaho and in general, Idaho and the western United States is kind of lagged from the eastern part of the country by 2 to 4 weeks when the flu season started. And we're really started kind of in the eastern part of the country, rolled across the country. And so Idaho, we are still seeing very high flu activity in some parts of the country, though, flu activity really peaked around mid to late November. However, as I mentioned in Idaho and a lot of a lot of states, we're still seeing very high activity. And CDC wants us all to remember that many flu seasons have a second wave. And so we cannot predict what's going to happen this season. It certainly started early. We're hoping it'll end kind of earlier than normal, but we just don't know. So, I would strongly recommend if if people have not gotten their flu shots, children, anybody, elderly persons, please go out and get your flu shot now. It it is the gold standard for protecting oneself and one's loved ones against the flu, along with other prevention activities like wearing a mask. If you feel you're sick staying home. If you feel you're sick. Washing your hands frequently and covering your cough.

PRENTICE: Well, the next few weeks, I'm going to guess, are going to be quite telling in that some of the data you'll be looking at will most likely reflect our partying on New Year's Eve. The fact that children are returning to classrooms. So, the data in the coming weeks this month will be very critical, I'm guessing.

TENGELSEN: Sure. We feel like we will get a better picture of what happened over those holiday visits. We do update our Web page every Friday as data rolls in every week and we compile that. Our website is flu.Idaho.gov.

PRENTICE: Let me ask you about the data you're looking at. Where does that come from?

TENGELSEN: Well, some of the data comes from our state laboratory. They evaluate the viruses that are sent in by hospital laboratories and they look at what kinds of viruses are out there, as I've already discussed. So that's one piece. We also look at the number of visits to the emergency department for influenza like illness. And so, we look at the percentage of total visits for flu like illness. So that gives us another indication of what's going on out there. And we can also look at this data geographically, so we know where in the state problems are arising. And we also receive information from the Bureau of Vital Records and Health Statistics in the Health and Welfare and looking at mortality associated with influenza.

PRENTICE: By the way, flu season stretches through… when?

TENGELSEN: Well, CDC and Idaho officially track flu season October 1st to the beginning of May each year. And typical flu seasons tend to start a little more like November, December, and kind of roll on through April. This year, we started in October. And so, we're hoping that it started early. So, we're hoping it ends earlier. But, you know, we just don't have a crystal ball to know. So, again, please, if you have not received your vaccination against influenza, please seek that out as soon as you can.

PRENTICE: And I'm also assuming that we should stay home if we've got symptoms… and keep our kids home.

TENGELSEN: We don't want to spread that through your schools or or visit loved ones and say long term care facilities if we're feeling under the weather.

PRENTICE: And again, I think it's worth repeating. The data is updated each Friday. I know I'd lean into it each Friday and give us that website one more time.

TENGELSEN: It's a flu.Idaho.gov.

PRENTICE: We always look forward to any time with her and in particular as we need more information as we are well doing our best to fight a flu season. Dr. Leslie Tengelsen at the Department of Health and Welfare, thank you so much for giving us some of your time this morning.

TENGELSEN: You're welcome. And thank you, George.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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