This flu season is shaping up to be moderately severe, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but luckily this year’s vaccine is proving to be a good match for the virus.
The flu shot has been found to be 43 percent effective against influenza A type H3N2—the most common form that is circulating—and 73 percent effective against influenza B strains. While this rate may not seem all that impressive—especially concerning the H3N2 strain—it is important to keep in mind that this percentage indicates a 43 percent decrease in flu outbreaks across all age groups.
In past flu seasons where the vaccine was 45 percent effective, approximately 60,000 hospitalizations and 2,000 deaths were prevented across the United States, showing that even when the vaccine is not as effective as scientists would like, it still manages to prevent many hospitalizations and complications related to the flu season.
Epidemiologist Brendan Flannery of the CDC spoke about these rates, explaining “A 50 percent reduction in doctors’ visits for flu means less time off work or taking care of a child who is not in school. A 50 percent reduction in doctors’ visits may translate to similar or greater reduction in more severe outcomes like hospitalizations and complications of flu.” While the influenza B strain is being much more effectively controlled, the H3N2 strain has proven more difficult to prevent as it has the ability to mutate.
These results were based on data collected from over 3,100 patients across all age groups who were seen by physicians in five outpatient clinics, all within the United States between November 28, 2016, and February 4, 2017.
Flannery also stressed the importance of seeking treatment if you come down with the flu, explaining “Antivirals shouldn’t be withheld pending influenza testing or based on whether you were vaccinated or not.” Treatment for influenza can not only better the patients’ symptoms, but it can help lessen the spread of the virus and decrease hospitalizations and deaths as a result.
Scientists warn that the flu season has yet to peak, and have reasserted that the best preventative measure is to get the flu vaccine, especially if you are considered part of the vulnerable sector that includes adults over 65, young children, and those with autoimmune diseases and deficiencies.