This year’s flu season is the most widespread on record since health officials started to keep track 13 years ago. In the third week of January, more people sought care for flu like illnesses than at any other period in almost a decade, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent weekly report shows.
This Year’s Flu
The strain this season is also the nastiest, H3N2, which causes the worst outbreaks of the two influenza A viruses and two types of influenza B viruses that circulate among people. This strain is able to change more quickly to get around the human body’s immune system than the other viruses targeted in this year’s seasonal flu vaccine.
The CDC estimates that flu has resulted between 9.2 million and 35.6 million illnesses and 12,000 to 56,000 deaths each year in the United States since 2010.
As the 2018 flu season continues to rage on, hospitals are continuing to feel the rush. The CDC has reported that there has been close to 12,000 influenza-related hospitalizations reported, and that’s only since October 2017! The highest hospitalization rate is among people over 65.
U.S. officials usually look to Australia, where the flu season begins during our summer and their winter, for clues on what to expect for flu in the United States. Flu virus infections began increasing earlier than usual in Australia, hitting historic highs in some areas.
CDC officials said a good predictor of vaccine effectiveness for H3N2 is last season’s vaccine’s effectiveness in the United States. The current vaccine contains the same H3N2 component as last season, which was about 32 percent effective.
Antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu can lessen the symptoms and shorten the time of illness. Most people who get the flu have mild illness and don’t need antiviral drugs from a doctor. People who are very sick or people with flu symptoms who are at high risk for serious complications should be treated as soon as possible with antiviral drugs though. That means people 65 and older, young children, people with chronic conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, and pregnant women are more vulnerable to serious flu illness.
The CDC has been urging clinicians not to wait for confirmed testing but to begin treatment if they suspect flu in a severely ill or high-risk patient.
The CDC is recommending that everyone do the following things to help prevent the spread of the virus:
- Stop the spread! Take preventative steps like washing your hands with soap and water, avoid contact with sick people, and stay home from work/school when you’re sick. These can stop the spread of germs.
- Get vaccinated. The CDC recommends that everyone six months or older get a flu vaccine once a year, before flu activity starts. Vaccinations are especially important for high-risk individuals like older people and healthcare workers.