Flu sea­son said to be get­ting worse

Vac­cines don’t pro­tect against most bugs

The Covington News - - Health & Wellness - By Mike Stobbe

AT­LANTA — The flu sea­son is get­ting worse, and U.S. health of­fi­cials say it’s partly be­cause the flu vac­cine doesn’t pro­tect against most of the spread­ing flu bugs.

The flu shot is a good match for only about 40 per­cent of this year’s flu viruses, of­fi­cials at the U.S. Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion said Fri­day.

The sit­u­a­tion has even de­te­ri­o­rated since last week when the CDC said the vac­cine was pro­tec­tive against roughly half the cir­cu­lat­ing strains. In good years, the vac­cine can fend off 70 to 90 per­cent of flu bugs.

In­fec­tions from an un­ex­pected strain have been boom­ing, and now are the main agent be­hind most of the na­tion’s lab-con­firmed flu cases, said Dr. Joe Bre­see, the CDC’s chief of in­fluenza epi­demi­ol­ogy.

It’s too soon to know whether this will prove to be a bad flu sea­son over­all, but it’s fair to say a lot of peo­ple are suf­fer­ing at the mo­ment. “Ev­ery area of the coun­try is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing lots of flu right now,” Bre­see said.

This week, 44 states re­ported wide­spread flu ac­tiv­ity, up from 31 last week. The num­ber chil­dren who have died from the flu has risen to 10 since the flu sea­son’s of­fi­cial Sept. 30 start.

Those num­bers aren’t con­sid­ered alarm­ing. Early Fe­bru­ary is the time of year when flu cases tend to peak. The 10 pe­di­atric deaths, though tragic, are about the same num­ber as was re­ported at this time in the last two flu sea­sons, Bre­see said.

The big­gest sur­prise has been how poorly the vac­cine has per­formed.

Each win­ter, ex­perts try to pre­dict which strains of flu will cir­cu­late so they can de­velop an ap­pro­pri­ate vac­cine for the fol­low­ing sea­son. They choose three strains— two from the Type A fam­ily of in­fluenza, and one from Type B.

Usu­ally, the guess­work is pretty good: The vac­cines have been a good match in 16 of the last 19 flu sea­sons, Bre­see has said.

But the vac­cine’s Type B com­po­nent turned out not to be a good match for the B virus that has been most com­mon this win­ter. And one of the Type A com­po­nents turned out to be poorly suited for the Type A H3N2/Bris­bane-like strain that now ac­counts for the largest por­tion of lab-con­firmed cases.

Over the years, the H3N2 flu has tended to cause more deaths, Bre­see said.

This week, the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion took the un­usual step of rec­om­mend­ing that next sea­son’s flu vac­cine have a com­pletely dif­fer­ent makeup from this year’s. The U.S. Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion is ex­pected to make its de­ci­sion about the U.S. vac­cine next week.

H3N2 strains are treat­able by Tam­i­flu and other an­tivi­ral drugs, but the other, H1N1 Type A strains are more re­sis­tant. Of all flu sam­ples tested this year, 4.6 per­cent have been re­sis­tant to an­tivi­ral med­i­ca­tions. That’s up from fewer than 1 per­cent last year.

“This rep­re­sents a real in­crease in re­sis­tance,” Bre­see said.

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