Aja C. Holmes planned to go to work last week, but her flu symptoms — a cough, fever and severe body aches that worsened overnight — had other ideas.
“It felt like somebody took a bat and beat my body up and down,” said Holmes, 39, who works as a residential life director at California State University-Sacramento. “I couldn’t get out of bed.”
The nation is having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad flu season.
Flu is widespread in 46 states, including California, according to the latest reports to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Nationally, as of mid-December, at least 106 people had died from the infectious disease. At least 27 Californians younger than 65 had died as of Friday, seven of them during the week before Christmas. And states across the country are reporting higher-than-average flu-related hospitalizations and emergency room visits.
In California, flu struck surprisingly early and hard this season. The state’s warmer temperatures typically mean people are less confined indoors and result in a later flu season compared with other regions. Health experts aren’t sure why this season is different.
“We’re seeing the worst of it right now,” said Dr. Randy Bergen, a pediatrician who is leading Kaiser Permanente-Northern California’s anti-flu effort. “We’re really in historic territory, and I just don’t know when it’s going to stop.” (Kaiser Health News, which produces California Healthline, is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.)
Here are five things you should know about this flu season:
1. It’s shaping up to be one of the worst in recent years.
The H3N2 influenza A subtype that appears to be most prevalent this year is particularly nasty, with more severe symptoms including fever and body aches.
Australia, which U.S. public health officials follow closely in their flu forecasting in part because their winter is our summer, reported a record-high number of confirmed flu cases in 2017.
Another influenza B virus subtype also is circulating, “and that’s no fun, either,” Bergen said.Flu season in the U.S. typically starts in October and ends in May.
2. This season’s flu vaccine is likely to be less effective than in previous years.
U.S. flu experts say they won’t fully know how effective this season’s vaccine is until the end of the season.
But Australia’s experience suggests effectiveness was only about 10 percent. In the U.S., it is 40 to 60 percent effective in an average season.
Vaccines are less protective if strains are different than predicted and unexpected mutations occur.
3. You should get the flu shot anyway.
Even if it is not a good match to the virus now circulating, the vaccine helps to ease the severity and duration of symptoms if you come down with the flu. Young children are considered among the most vulnerable to complications from the disease, and a shot can significantly reduce a child’s chances of dying. High-dose vaccines are recommended for elderly people, who also are exceptionally vulnerable to illness, hospitalization and death related to the flu, according to the CDC.
“Some protection is better than no protection,” Bergen said, “but it’s certainly disappointing to have a vaccine that’s just not as effective as we’d like it to be.
Shots may still be available from your doctor or local health clinic, as well as at some chain drugstores. Check the Vaccine Finder website for a location near you.
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