Shortly before Christmas, labs across the United States have started to see more positive flu tests, which have signaled the start of the flu season. Some of the most common symptoms of the virus are coughing, high fever, aching, and extreme fatigue.
Vaccination against flu is generally controversial, as every year the virus mutates. However, this year all forms of the flu vaccine are A H3N2, which will, in theory, cause more cases compared with milder roots of the virus.
Epidemic On The Rise
However, the virus in 2017 could affect children and the elderly more than the rest of the population.
"It definitely looks like flu season is here. [...] A lot of the bad years are H3 years. The elderly and the very young may have a harder time this year," noted Lynnette Brammer, an epidemiologist who is in charge of tracking the flu at the CDC.
However, sometimes vaccination fails to fully protect people, despite all efforts, especially during the years when the virus mutation is a H3 subtype. Experts are concerned about the number of people who will get the flu despite having taken the shots.
"The dominant H3N2 A strain is the variety that causes more severe disease, especially among older persons," noted William Schaffner, MD, infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University, Nashville.
After two consecutive weeks of recording cases of the influenza virus, experts in Washington are talking about an epidemic of the disease. While this may sound very dangerous, flu epidemics occur every year in different areas across the United States. But this year's virus root poses more problems due to two main factors: the type of virus, which is difficult to treat compared to others which are milder in nature, and the timing, which seems to have alarmed health representatives.
During the last few years, there have been alternate strains of the virus. In 2016, H1N1 was predominant, while the year before was the H3N2 (similar to the one in 2017). The first is usually easier to treat than the H3 counterpart, which is why people should take all the necessary precautions.
Vaccination Is Mandatory
Every season has a peak of recorded cases, or more, depending on a series of factors such as the weather and the strain of the virus. As the virus usually survives throughout the entire winter, this peak can happen at any given time between November and March.
Although the virus this year makes it a little more complicated to efficiently treat all the cases, the vaccine is, at least in theory, a good match which can provide the necessary protection.
"Flu vaccines take about six months to go from manufacturer to distribution ... so researchers actually watch what's circulating in the Southern Hemisphere — their season is opposite ours and (they) make their best guess about (what will be effective). If it's not a good match you can still get some protection. But fortunately this year the vaccine is very well-matched," noted Paul Throne, health promotion and communication section manager for the Washington Department of Health.
This year's recommendation specifies using the vaccine, not nasal spray or other alternative measures, in to minimize chances of epidemics.