TUESDAY, JULY 17, 2018

Severe flu strains appear to be season's biggest threat

H3N2 flu strains, the most prevalent so far this season, are highly resistant to vaccines.
H3N2 flu strains, the most prevalent so far this season, are highly resistant to vaccines. | Contributed photo

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourages all citizens to receive their influenza vaccines in light of the data predicting a severe flu season for 2014.

The CDC further encourages people already showing flu symptoms to request antiviral drugs for immediate treatment.

The most common strains of the influenza virus in 2014 have been H3N2 varieties, known for causing more deaths, illnesses and hospitalizations than other flu strains.

H3N2 strains are particularly dangerous because their drift variants give them higher resistance against the seasonal influenza vaccine. The vaccine shows a 37 percent to 42 percent effectiveness against the strains.

Flu strains are constantly mutating. A panel of health professionals chooses the viral strains to be targeted by the seasonal vaccine many months in advance, and the prevalent strains can change by the time the vaccine is distributed to the public.

The public should not underestimate the effectiveness of the flu vaccine. Even if some strains are more resistant to the vaccine than others, the inoculation still protects people from other viral infections.

"While the vaccine's ability to protect against drifted H3N2 viruses this season may be reduced, we are still strongly recommending vaccination," Dr. Joseph Bresee, chief of the Influenza Epidemiology and Prevention Branch at the CDC, said. "Vaccination has been found to provide some protection against drifted viruses in past seasons. Also, vaccination will offer protection against other flu viruses that may become more common later in the season."

"It's too early to say for sure that this will be a severe flu season, but Americans should be prepared," Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC, said. "We can save lives with a three-pronged effort to fight the flu: vaccination, prompt treatment for people at high risk of complications, and preventive health measures, such as staying home when you're sick, to reduce flu spread."

Extremely young children, the elderly and health care workers are especially susceptible to the flu.

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