Sorry, folks, but we’re headed into a nasty flu season.
The government’s disease experts say this season’s strain will be particularly virulent and — even worse — about half of the strain’s viruses have already mutated into a form that the current vaccine can’t fully protect against.
Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the flu shot is still the best bet for protection, but they also urged people who feel they are coming down with the flu (see symptoms, below) to ask their doctors for antiviral medication, such as Tamiflu, and to stay home and not spread the disease.
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While antivirals can’t stop the flu, they’re “an important second line of defense,” especially this year, CDC director Tom Frieden said in a news briefing. The drugs may shorten the duration of fever and symptoms and reduce the risk of complications, but they’re most effective if taken within 48 hours of when symptoms start.
Earlier, the CDC had issued an emergency health advisory to doctors noting that, of flu-virus samples the agency took from Oct. 1 through Nov. 22, less than half were a good match to this year’s vaccine. About 52 percent of the samples showed viruses that have genetically “drifted,” or mutated, meaning flu shots will be less effective against them.
The agency also said that the most common strain of the virus reported so far is influenza A, or H3N2, which in past seasons has caused higher rates of hospitalizations and deaths. It’s been detected in almost all the states, the agency reported.
“We know that in seasons when H3 viruses predominate, we tend to have seasons that are worse flu years,” Frieden said. In the past decade, the three seasons when H3N2 viruses predominated had the highest death rates, particularly among young children and those over 65.
Five children have already died from the flu this season, three of whom had the H3 flu virus, said Joseph Bresee, M.D., chief of the Epidemiology and Prevention Branch in the CDC’s Influenza Division.
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In its health advisory, the CDC stressed that doctors should give antiviral medications quickly and not wait for a lab test to confirm that a patient has the flu.
The most common flu symptoms, according to flu.gov, include
- A 100oF or higher fever or feeling feverish (although not everyone with the flu has a fever).
- A cough and/or sore throat.
- A runny or stuffy nose.
- Headaches and/or body aches.
- Severe fatigue.
- Nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea (most common in children).
To see what flu conditions are like in your area, click on this handy map on the Everyday Health site.
Photo: Alpamayo Photo/iStock
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