Why is the 2018 Flu Season So Bad?
During the first week of January, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that every part of the continental U.S. showed widespread flu activity. This was significant, since the CDC has never made such an announcement during any of its 13 years of flu monitoring. So, why exactly is this year’s flu season so bad, and what can you do to protect yourself and your family?
Why Things Are So Bad
Each year, different strains of influenza circulate among the human population. This year, H3N2, a subtype of influenza A, is especially common. Not only is H3N2 more difficult to prevent, it leads to more complications, especially among vulnerable groups, such as children or the elderly. This is why there have been so many stories about flu-related hospitalizations and deaths.
According to the CDC, over 90 percent of all flu cases involve the H3N2 strain. This has led to about 31 flu-related hospitalizations per 100,000 population as of mid-January. While that might not sound like much, it represents a three-fold increase over the first week of January.
What About the Flu Shot?
Another reason the H3N2 flu strain has been so widespread has to do with the relative limitations of this year’s flu vaccine. Each year, vaccines are designed to target specific flu strains, which researchers believe will be most prevalent in a given year. Studies suggest that flu vaccines are much more effective when influenza type B and H1N1 are most common. During this season, however, the CDC estimates that the flu vaccine is only effective against about 30 percent of H3N2 flu viruses.
There are a few reasons why H3N2 seems to be more resistant to the flu vaccine. For one, is tends to mutate faster as it moves through the human population. It’s also harder for scientists to grow H3N2 within eggs, where flu viruses for vaccines are produced.
What You Can Do
Experts still recommend that people go ahead and get this year’s flu shot, since it can reduce your risk of flu-related complications. You can also lower your risk of getting sick by washing your hands and using sanitizer to reduce the spread of germs.
If you or a family member gets the flu, it’s important to watch for complications, including dehydration, breathing difficulties, red or patchy skin or very high fever. If you notice any potential signs of flu-related complications, visit your local PhysicianOne Urgent Care.