This year’s influenza season, dubbed “moderately severe” by health care officials, has hit the United States hard, with the number of recorded cases of the disease in parts of the country up more than 500 percent.
Thirteen children have died from the flu since October, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with widespread flu activity being reported now in 46 states. California alone has seen 27 flu deaths this season.
This year’s level of flu outbreak is on track to be one of the most active, according to the CDC. Researchers are saying it compares to the flu level of 2015-2016, the most active flu year since 2009, when a flu that had not been seen before caused a pandemic that killed 284,000 worldwide.
Forty-one thousand cases of flu have been confirmed in the United States as of the week of Dec. 27.
What is making some medical professionals nervous is that the flu vaccine may not be as effective as hoped. In Australia, the vaccine was effective in only about 10 percent of cases, according to The New England Journal of Medicine.
Here’s what there is to know about this year’s flu season.
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What kind of flu is being seen the most?
The prominent strain in Australia’s flu season was the H3N2 form of influenza A. That strain is what doctors are seeing in this country as well. The strain is included in this year’s flu vaccine.
How effective is the flu vaccine?
Despite what has been reported about the flu vaccine’s effectiveness, the CDC says it believes the “U.S. VE estimates from last season are likely to be a better predictor of the flu vaccine benefits to expect this season against circulating H3N2 viruses in the United States.” Last year’s effectiveness for the H3N2 virus was around 43 percent. The CDC also stressed “Estimates of the flu vaccine’s effectiveness against circulating flu viruses in the United States will be available later in the season.”
What are the symptoms of the flu?
The symptoms of flu can come on quickly. If you have these symptoms you need to see a doctor. The time from when a person is exposed to flu virus and infected to when symptoms begin is about one to four days, with an average of about two days.
What can you do to try to prevent it?
If you have not gotten a flu shot, it’s late, but it is not too late. While thousands have gotten the flu, the influenza season is just reaching its peak. The CDC recommends the flu shot for everyone over the age of 6 months – infants and older people should especially be inoculated, according to the agency.
Remember, after the vaccine, your body can take up to two weeks to build up defenses against the flu virus.
If you are allergic to eggs, let your medical provider know that before you get the vaccine. The flu vaccine is grown using eggs.
Can you catch the flu from the vaccine?
No, you don’t get the flu from the vaccine because the vaccine is made from an inactivated virus that can't transmit infection.
What if I already have the flu or at the symptoms of it?
Anti-viral medication – like Tamiflu – will help lessen the symptoms of flu. However, you need to start taking anti-virals within 48 hours of the onset of flu symptoms.
There seems to be a lot of flu around, is it an epidemic?
There are specific parameters used to determine if the flu has reached epidemic levels. Influenza is considered at epidemic level when the number of deaths from flu surpasses a threshold set by the CDC. In the last week of reports from the agency, the number of flu deaths was 0.2 percent below the threshold the CDC set, meaning a flu epidemic is possible soon.
In years where the flu is considered “mild,” the CDC estimates it kills around 12,000 Americans. In moderately severe years, as this one is being called, 56,000 could die.
Here’s what’s new for this year’s flu season
From the CDC:
The recommendation to not use the nasal spray flu vaccine was renewed for the 2017-2018 season. Only injectable flu shots are recommended for use again this season.
Flu vaccines have been updated to better match circulating viruses.
Pregnant women may receive any licensed, recommended, and age-appropriate flu vaccine.
A quadrivalent recombinant flu vaccine (a vaccine designed to protect against four different flu viruses; two influenza A viruses and two influenza B viruses), is available this season.
© 2018 Cox Media Group.