This year’s flu season has begun early, as cold weather and a decrease in the effectiveness of the current vaccine factor into a premature peak in this years’ outbreak.
While the effectiveness of the flu vaccine is not static, it usually varies from year to year to reduce the risk of illness by 40% to 60%, according to the CDC. This year, the vaccine is less effective.
“It’s just one of those years where the CDC is seeing that this strain of flu is only somewhat covered by the vaccine that was given this year,” said Jennifer Radtke, manager for infection prevention at the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville. “They’re seeing that it’s anywhere from 10% to 33% effective, so any time there’s a mismatch between the vaccine and the circulating strain of the flu, you’re going to see more cases.”
That statement is supported by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data released on Friday, which indicates that epidemiologists in 36 states have reported widespread influenza activity, with twenty-one of those states reporting a high number of cases, according to USA Today. Normally, peak flu activity in the U.S. happens nearer to February.
Patients with the flu often feel some combination of these symptoms:
- Fever or feeling feverish/chills
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.
According to the CDC: “Influenza (also known as ‘flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death.”
Deaths have already have occurred, according to the USA Today report. They include:
• 11 people younger than 65 have died in California, which does not track flu-related deaths among those 65 and older.
• 2 people have died in Delaware, a 47-year-old man with underlying health problems and an 83-year-old woman.
• 12 people, including a child, have died in North Carolina.
• 7 people older than 65 have died in South Carolina.
Heath officials recommend getting a flu shot to combat the virus, even if it cannot offer total immunity, health officials say. The flu season typically starts in October and ends in May.
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