This year’s flu has already proved to be brutal, and health officials believe it could get worse!

New York hospitals, medical centers, and doctor’s offices are bursting with patients experiencing symptoms of the flu. The New York State Department of Health has reported 1,820 confirmed cases of the flu in our state alone, and this doesn’t account for the hundreds of individuals who do not seek medical treatment.

Nationally, there have been 11,280 reported cases of influenza in the last 5-6 weeks, with 3,600 of these cases resulting in hospitalization! Sadly, twenty flu-related pediatric deaths have already been reported across the United States, one in which occurred in New York.

Why has the flu become so deadly this year?

The Flu Vaccine Is Less Effective

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that generally, flu vaccines are between 40%-60% effective in preventing individuals from getting the flu, or the full onset of flu-related symptoms. However, health officials examining this year’s flu vaccine are seeing about 30% effectiveness…why?

According to the CDC, a person who received a flu shot will react based on two factors: overall health and the strain of the virus they have contracted. Each season, the flu vaccine is designed by guessing which strains may affect the public. This year, the majority of patients with the flu have been diagnosed with H3N2- unfortunately, a tricky strain, and not a match for this year’s flu vaccine make up.

H3N2 Is a Nasty Strain

When a flu vaccine is created, the virus is grown inside of an egg…a chicken egg to be precise! The virus is isolated and grown for several days before the fluid is extracted, ‘killed’, and made into flu shots. The process tends to work pretty well with most flu strains, however, H3N2 poses some challenges!

The H3N2 mutates very quickly. By the time the flu-vaccines are ready to distribute, the H3N2 virus has already significantly changed as it continues to spread through the state. The CDC also reports these qualities make it extremely difficult to grow inside of eggs, as the virus almost immediately changes once inserted. This explains why looking back, flu seasons dominated by the H3N2 strain have also shown less effective vaccine rates!

What’s the Point of Getting the Flu Shot?

If we know the H3N2 strain is aggressive and resistant to the flu vaccine, why should we bother with the shot? Health officials around the nation and the CDC agree- some protection is better than none! The New York Department of Health recommends that all individuals (from 6-months and up) receive a form of this year’s flu vaccine. The H3N2 is especially harsh on vulnerable populations such as children and the elderly. Providing them any protection against the flu can not only help reduce the severity of the virus but decrease the chances of spreading the disease with fewer symptoms posing a risk.

The Flu or a Bad Cold?

Many patients believe they have the flu when in reality they have a bad cold. And sometimes, going to the doctor in fear you might have the flu is the best way to get it from other patients who do! Influenza (the flu) is a respiratory disease that rears its ugly head with a number of uncomfortable symptoms, including:

  • fever
  • headache
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • body aches
  • chills
  • congestion
  • gastrointestinal issues

If you’re experiencing these symptoms, you should see a doctor immediately for treatment.

How Do I Stay Protected?

If you are looking for additional methods for protecting your family from the flu, good health habits are always the best form of prevention. Frequent hand washing, and covering mouths when coughing and sneezing are very important. Anti-viral medications prescribed by a doctor can also be an effective secondary method for protecting against an aggressive flu virus.

If you do go to the doctor and are diagnosed with the flu, the best way to protect others is to stay home! Don’t go to work to tough it out, even if you believe you can. Protecting others from the flu is just as important as protecting yourself.

For more information on this year’s flu virus and vaccines, the CDC has an abundance of information that can help guide you through staying healthy this season! ()