Flu Virus Plagues the Nation
Biologist Rebecca Gillespie places a vial of flu-fighting antibodies in ice at the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institutes of Health, Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017, in Bethesda, Md. Scientists now think people respond differently to vaccination based on their flu history. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
This year’s flu virus is now widespread in the U.S. with many hospitalizations and some deaths, prompting organizations such as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to urge people to take extra precautions this flu season.
“The one [report] we put out last Friday shows the flu is widespread in the United States, but the flu activity is higher in the South and the West coast,” said Kristen Nordlund, CDC spokesperson.
There have been several hospitalizations throughout the U.S., but according to Eric Howard, epidemiologist for the Oklahoma City County Health Department, there have been 1,020 hospitalizations statewide.
“Within Oklahoma County we are sitting at 233 hospitalizations,” Howard said.
Howard said that these numbers are from Jan. 6 and the data is about a week delayed.
Deaths have also been rising this flu season. Howard said that in Oklahoma, 23 have died from the flu this year.
“When we have H1N1 season, they are typically less severe than H3N2,” Howard said. “This year has shown that we are getting, nationally, about 80 percent of all cases of the flu are H3N2 and it’s more of a pesky kind of a nastier strain. It doesn’t respond as well to the vaccine.”
According to the CDC’s website, H1N1 and H3N2 are both included in this year’s flu vaccination and getting a vaccine can protect against similar flu viruses or viruses that are related to the ones in the vaccine.
When vaccines are made, there are two types: the trivalent and quadrivalent flu vaccines. The trivalent contains three strains of the flu and the quadrivalent contains four strains of the flu. Howard said most of the U.S. receives the quadrivalent vaccine.
Most vaccines are now egg-based, which could sometimes contribute to the effectiveness of the vaccine.
“A majority of influenza vaccine manufacturers use egg-based [vaccines]. There are a few vaccines that are cell-based and protein-based, but the vast majority is egg-based,” Nordlund said. “For some reason, specifically with the H3N2 strain … when it is grown in eggs it kind of mutates and so the virus that is in the vaccine looks a little bit different from what is actually spreading in the community.”
Nordlund said this explains the varied effectiveness in vaccines.
One way the CDC is trying to urge precaution is through their Take 3 approach, according to Nordlund. The first step is to take the time to get a vaccination, second is to take every day preventative actions to stop the spread of germs and third is to take flu antiviral drugs if prescribed by a doctor.
Don’t let #flu keep you from having a healthy #NewYear. Take 3 actions to #FightFlu:
1. Take time to get a flu vaccine
2. Take everyday preventive actions
3. Take antiviral drugs if prescribedhttps://t.co/JObK2EccwD pic.twitter.com/APVdLMNuVQ
— CDC Flu (@CDCFlu) December 26, 2017
Typically, Tamiflu, otherwise known as Oseltamivir, is prescribed in confirmed cases of the flu.
“It [Oseltamivir] … reduces viral shedding so you aren’t sick as long,” said Dr. Nithin Devireddy at OU Physicians Family Medicine in Oklahoma City. “The caveat for that is that usually you have to be given Tamiflu or also Oseltamivir within 48 hours of getting fever and kind of getting your first symptoms of your flu-like symptoms.”
Antiviral treatment could help keep people, who have a high risk of serious flu complications, from acquiring milder or more serious illnesses which could mean hospitalization, according to the CDC’s website.
“It is definitely still a good idea to get vaccinated if you haven’t been vaccinated. We still encourage that and we still have vaccines available at all three of our City County Health Department Clinic locations,” Howard said, “We are really trying to get out the message about prevention and our main focuses are getting a vaccine, washing your hands regularly, covering your sneeze or cough and staying home from work if you are sick.”
For flu vaccines, there is the option to contact a primary care physician, but for those without one or on a budget, Walgreens is offering free flu vaccinations with most insurance coverage. Walk-ins are accepted for these vaccinations.