This Severe Strain of the Flu Is On the Rise
As March began, many believed that flu season was on its way out. But data released by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) late last week revealed that 32 states reported high levels of flu activity, with 21 of those saying their levels were higher than they've ever been before.
Based on the deadly flu season we had in 2017–2018 (reminder: more than 80,000 people died) we're all aware that the flu can be unpredictable and lethal. But what's interesting about this year's spike in reported illnesses is that the H3N2 virus, a more severe strain of the flu, is causing the majority of hospitalizations. (Did you know that 41 percent of Americans didn't plan to get the flu shot, despite last year's deadly flu season?)
The H3N2 strain was the culprit behind 62 percent of the reported flu cases for the last week of February, the CDC reported. The previous week, more than 54 percent of flu cases reported were caused by H3N2.
That's a problem, because this year's flu vaccine is more effective against the H1N1 virus strain, which was more predominant at the beginning of the typical flu season around October. So, if you received the flu shot, it has a 62 percent chance of protecting you against the H1N1 strain, compared to just 44 percent against this surging H3N2 virus, according to the CDC. (Find Out the Deal with FluMist, the Flu Vaccine Nasal Spray)
Plus, the H3N2 virus is more severe because, in addition to causing typical flu symptoms (fevers, chills, and body aches) it can lead to several severe complications, including very high fevers up to 103° or 104°F, reports the CDC.
Not only that, but while certain groups of people are always at a higher risk for getting the flu, like people 65 and older, young children and pregnant women, H3N2 can sometimes cause serious health problems in even healthy people. This can include complications such as pneumonia, which can require hospitalization-and sometimes results in death. (Related: Can a Healthy Person Die from the Flu?)
This particular influenza virus is also always adapting, which in turn makes H3N2 more contagious, causing it to spread much more easily from person to person. (Related: When Is the Best Time to Get a Flu Shot?)
The good news is, while flu activity is assumed to remain elevated throughout the next month, the CDC believes that there's a 90 percent chance that the season has already peaked nationally. So, we're on the downturn-whew.
You can also still get vaccinated! Yes, getting the flu shot can seem like a pain (or at very least, yet another errand). But given the fact that there have already been somewhere between 18,900 and 31,200 flu-related deaths and as many as 347,000 hospitalizations this season, the flu should be taken very seriously. Oh, and once you get that shot (because we know you're headed there ASAP, right??) check out these four other ways you can protect yourself from the flu this year.