It’s already a very bad flu season, with 43 states now reporting widespread flu activity, reports ABC News. The predominant flu strain this season is called H3N2, and it accounts for 95 percent of the cases reported so far, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Moreover, this particular strain of flu is associated with more severe illness and more deaths, and this year’s vaccine isn’t a good match against it.
The H3N2 flu virus mutated after the seasonal flu vaccine was developed and manufactured, so as a result the vaccine is only about 33 percent effective in preventing the flu, according to Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Dr. Fauci says that the flu season started early this year, but he recommends that people still get a flu shot. While it may not be as effective as in past years, it still offers some protection and is especially important for high-risk individuals, including adults over 65, children younger than 5 years old, pregnant women, and people with medical conditions including asthma and liver disorders. In an average year, flu vaccine is effective 50 to 70 percent of the time.
Last week the CDC announced that the flu had already reached epidemic proportions. At Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, the emergency room is seeing about 10 patients daily with severe flu symptoms. This is especially concerning because many of these patients had been vaccinated.
For people who get the flu, a physician can prescribe medication to lessen the length and severity of the illness, and it’s best to treat it early — within the first few days of developing symptoms. Antiviral drugs like Tamiflu and Relenza are often used, and a new option called Rapivab (peramivir) just received FDA approval in mid-December.