This year’s flu season is off to a quick start and so far it seems to be dominated by a nasty bug. Health officials say the flu vaccine seems well matched to the viruses making people sick, but it’s too early to tell how bad this season will be.
The main flu bug this season tends to cause more deaths and hospitalizations and vaccines tend not to work as well against this type.
Flu began picking up last month.
By the end of last week, seven states reported widespread flu activity: Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Virginia. According to data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday, this year’s flu season is off to a quick start and so far it seems to be dominated by a nasty bug
Most flu seasons don’t really get going until around Christmas. That’s how last year’s flu season played out. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the latest data Friday.
The figures come a day after another CDC report revealed flu shot rates are lower than hoped this year. The rate of adults getting vaccinated against influenza this year has dropped 3.7 percent, meaning just a third of adults and children are protected.
The biggest drop in flu shot rates was seen among Hispanic adults (down 7.7 percent from last year). Meanwhile, just a third of pregnant women have received the shot.
It may not sound like a disaster, since this year’s flu shot is only 10 percent effective against the difficult-to-stop H3N2 strain.
However, doctors insist we cannot underestimate the importance of ‘herd immunity’, and that the shot may be more effective as lessening illness in those who do get sick.
‘Continued efforts are needed to increase the percentage of the population vaccinated during the next few months in order to reduce the burden of flu,’ the authors of the CDC report said.
They added: ‘Immunization programs should work with community leaders to promote vaccination, ensure all members have access to flu vaccination, and ensure that all members understand the importance of flu vaccination in preventing disease.’
The four most deadly flu seasons of the last 10 years – in the winters of 2003-2004, 2007-2008, 2012-2013, and 2014-15 – were H3N2 seasons, each with a particular version of that flu type.
Although H3N2 is not as virulent as some other strains of flu, it mutates very easily, making it stronger against the body’s immune system. Data from the CDC’s interactive flu-tracking site show cases of people falling ill with ‘influenza-like illnesses’ (ILI) are more widespread than in previous years.
Experts warn this could be an early sign that the US faces the same fate as Australia, which had one of its worst outbreaks on record, with two and a half times the normal number of cases.
Some of the country’s hospitals had to resort to ‘standing room only’ after being hit by more than 100,000 cases of the H3N2 strain.