Health officials brace for severe flu season

Flu season hits Massachusetts early as experts worry vaccine won't match dominant strain

Flu vaccine gets bad wrap, but experts say studies could be flawed

Health officials warn of bad flu season this year, but still recommend the flu shot. It is one of the best ways to prevent contracting the flu virus. In the last week, cases in Washington State are also on the rise.

While some seasons don't kick off until February, we are already seeing a surge in people hospitalized with influenza-like symptoms - at a rate even faster and earlier than we saw in 2014.

Adding to the concerns are worries over the effectiveness of the vaccine.

"Reports from Australia have caused mounting concern, with record-high numbers of laboratory-confirmed influenza notifications and outbreaks and higher-than-average numbers of hospitalizations and deaths", a team of US researchers wrote in an article published November 29 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The four most deadly flu seasons of the last 10 years - in the winters of 2003-2004, 2007-2008, 2012-2013, and 2014-15 - were H3N2 seasons, each with a particular version of that flu type. 201 of those cases are from people who have had flu like illnesses.

Meanwhile, the authors of NEJM report suggest a renewed effort to work toward better, more effective flu vaccines.

The findings come from the Australian Government Department of Health, and more importantly for Central Texans, the flu shots used in the Australian study are made of the same components as the flu shots administered right here in Waco.

According to the study, a strain of the H3N2 virus with a different outer layer protein emerged during the 2014-2015 flu season.

"We often see a season last three months, so there's still time to do it", Dr. Richard Zimmerman, a physician at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, told Newsweek. When vaccines are well-matched to circulating strains, estimates of effectiveness range between 40 and 60 percent, according to the Journal.

Though the accuracy and effectiveness of each year's vaccine varies, this year's seems on track to provide good protection against the Influenza A strains now predominating, health officials say.

Despite concerns over the effectiveness, experts said the yearly flu vaccine is still recommended, especially for young child, those over age 50 and people who have health conditions that could make contracting the flu particularly risky. We don't know because once you get the flu it decreases your immune system. Nationwide since October 1, 566 have been hospitalized for influenza and 148 million doses of the flu vaccine have been distributed.

Latest News