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By Stan Greene
Observer Staff Writer 

Influenza Vaccine Seems Ineffective Against Current Strain of the Disease

2017 Flu Season arrived early, seems to affect the elderly more severely


January 2, 2018

Reports that this year's flu vaccine is not effective against the strain that's circulating most widely: Type A, subtype H3N2.

H3N2 "tends to be the strain of virus that most impacts the elderly, that causes the most complications, and up until this point the vaccine results have been quite disappointing," said Dr. Randy Bergen, clinical lead for Kaiser Permanente's flu vaccination program in Northern California. "Those things make us concerned that we're going to have a lot of sick people."

10 people under age 65 had died from influenza-related illness, says the California Department of Public Health. Typically, only one or two deaths, and sometimes none at all, have been reported in the same time frame. The state does not track flu-related deaths among people age 65 and older.

It is possible the season is starting earlier than last year's, but otherwise will be normal. On the other hand, it is also possible that it will be more severe.

"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," said Dr. Shelley Gordon, an infectious disease specialist with California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco.

Dr. Pardis Sabeti, a Harvard professor and infectious disease expert[, says,] "Even 10 percent effective is better than nothing."

Early reports in the United States mirror what public health officials saw in the Southern Hemisphere, where H3N2 was also the predominant strain. By the end of their flu season in September, several countries had reported the largest influenza outbreak since 2009, when the swine flu was a global threat.

In Australia, hospital admissions for influenza were more than double what is reported in a normal season, according to officials there. Deaths more than tripled, but some of that increase may have been due to discrepancies in how fatalities are counted.

Influenza s ymptoms tend to arise pretty suddenly, and can include: fever, sore throat, cough, runny nose, chills/body aches, and headaches, vomiting and diarrhea.

Because the flu is a viral infection, antibiotic drugs are completely useless against this illness. But health experts at the CDC say there are other, proven ways to help fight the flu. This year they're suggesting prescription antiviral drugs like oseltamivir (the pill is perhaps known better by its brand name, Tamiflu.) Other options include an inhaled antiviral called zanamivir and the injection peramivir.

Antiviral drugs (which require a doctor's orders) won't totally cure the flu, but they can make symptoms milder and shorter, and they are especially effective if taken in the first 48 hours of illness onset. Antivirals are especially important for at-risk patients, including: kids under 2 years old and adults over 65, pregnant women, people with asthma, and patients with weakened immune systems. Healthy people can typically recover from the flu in less than two weeks with rest, fluids and pain relievers like acetaminophen and ibuprofen, but antivirals can help prevent more serious complications, like pneumonia.


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