Yes, Flu Season is Way Worse This Year

Flu deaths are unusually high, this year’s vaccine may be less effective, and hopefully you have some sick days banked.

Gabriel Saldana/Flickr

All you readers cursing this year’s flu as one of your worst ever, you now have scientific data to back up that claim. The state Department of Public Health confirms a significant spike in flu deaths this year, and the medical community is concerned over studies indicating that that this year’s flu vaccine is only 10 percent effective against the current flu going around.

We do know that more people are getting the flu this year, and earlier than usual in California. The state Department of Public Health reports that flu deaths are way up this winter, with 10 flu fatalities confirmed — compared to the typical one, two, or zero that is normal for this time of year, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

But that doesn’t mean we can conclude it’s a worse flu season that usual. “The flu season usually lasts about 12 weeks. Whether this will be a typical 12-week season or it will be a longer cycle — well, it kind of looks like it’s following the usual curve,” California Pacific Medical Center infectious disease specialist Dr. Shelley Gordon tells the Chronicle.

Alarmingly, this year’s flu vaccine may be historically ineffective against the version of the flu virus that most people have, known medically as Influenza A virus subtype H3N2. This is no anti-vaxxer conspiracy theory, but the findings of a peer-reviewed scientific study just published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The Journal studied the flu shot’s effectiveness on the Australian flu season. “The preliminary estimate of vaccine effectiveness against influenza A (H3N2) was only 10 percent,” a team of researchers writes. “The implications for the Northern Hemisphere are not clear, but it is of note that the vaccine for this upcoming season has the same composition as that used in the Southern Hemisphere.”

“As we prepare for a potentially severe influenza season, we must consider whether our current vaccines can be improved and whether longer-term, transformative vaccine approaches are needed to minimize influenza-related morbidity and mortality,” the doctors say.

Bay Area doctors still urge people to get flu shots.

“There’s a lot of confusing information being provided from multiple news sources that the flu shot has only been 10 percent effective,” Sutter Health medical director of infection control Dr. Jeffrey Silvers tells the Bay Area News Group. “But the data strongly suggests that vaccinated  high risk patients are much less likely to be hospitalized.”

Other doctors are more blunt in encouraging flu shots.

“This (report) is not a reason to not get a flu shot,” Bridgeport Hospital chief of infectious disease Dr. Zane Saul tells the Chronicle. “The virus changes from month to month. It can change for the worse or the better.”   

Dr. Silver also notes the vaccine shot can take up to two weeks to take effect. “It’s not too late to get the flu shot and everyone six months or older can still get one,” he adds.


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