Friday, December 5, 2014

Flu Season

The Flu Season is here - according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this flu season could be worse than usual, due to an aggressive strain of influenza virus. 
Why is this Flu Season Worse? 
A strain of influenza called H3N2 appears to be circulating. This strain has appeared during the 2012-13, 2007-08, and 2003-04 flu season, the three seasons with the highest death rates in the past decade, according to the CDC. 
"We know that in seasons when H3 viruses predominate, we tend to have seasons that are worse flu years, with more hospitalizations from flu and more deaths from influenza," CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said during a news briefing.
To make matters more difficult, about half of the H3N2 viruses detected by CDC researchers so far appear to have mutated, and have genetically "drifted" away from the virus strain included in this year's flu vaccine.
"They're different enough that we're concerned that protection from vaccination against these 'drifted' H3N2 viruses may be lower than we usually see," Frieden said.
Three of the five children had the H3 flu virus, although doctors don't know if they had the mutated form of the virus, Bresee said.
What Should My Healthcare Provider Do? 
Because vaccine protection is likely to be shakier than usual this season, CDC officials are urging doctors to use antiviral drugs as soon as possible for any suspected flu cases.
Drugs like Tamiflu and Relenza can't prevent flu, but will reduce the amount of time people are sick, Frieden said.
"Antivirals aren't a substitute for vaccination," Frieden said. "Vaccination prevents flu. But antivirals are an important second line of defense to treat the flu. And this year treatment with antiviral drugs is especially important, particularly for people who are at high risk for serious flu complications or for people who are very sick with flu."
The CDC is recommending that doctors not wait for the results of a flu test before starting patients on antiviral drugs, he said. Antivirals are most effective when given within two days of the onset of symptoms.
A CDC health advisory issued Wednesday urges doctors to aggressively use antiviral drugs in suspected flu patients who are:
  • younger than 2 years old,
  • 65 or older,
  • suffering from chronic disease -- such as asthma, diabetes, heart or lung disease -- or have a suppressed immune system,
  • pregnant,
  • morbidly obese,
  • residents of nursing homes or chronic-care facilities.
Will this year's flu vaccine protect me? 
It takes about four months to make flu vaccine and ramp up production, Frieden said. This lag means that every year, immunologists have to take an educated guess as to which flu strains should be included in the vaccine.
Even though this year's vaccine does not directly protect against this particular H3N2 strain, Frieden still recommends that people get their annual flu shot.
The vaccine will protect against several active strains of flu, and could even provide some protection against mutated flu viruses, he said.
"If we have a severe season, getting a vaccine that provides even partial protection may be more important than ever," he added.
Consumer Health (2014) Flu Shot May Offer Less Protection This Winter.