The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that anywhere between 5% and 20% of Americans get some strain of the flu each year, causing anywhere from 4,000 to 50,000 deaths; even in its best years, the flu is one of the most dangerous illnesses in the country. Health experts had predicted that the 2014-2015 cold and flu season would be particularly rough, but now that some of the data regarding flu cases and hospitalizations is available, these same experts are warning that this season’s flu strain (called H3N2) could be even worse than predicted.
According to the Associated Press, this season’s influenza is “widespread” in 43 different states across the country, which is up from 36 states with “widespread” flu cases just one week ago.
So far, the CDC states, 21 children have died from the 2014-2015 flu strain, and just last week, the CDC reported that there were six pediatric deaths caused by the flu. Young children under the age of four are often severely affected by the flu and by subsequent complications, as are elderly people over 65.
Although H3N2 reached “epidemic level” at the end of 2014, the CDC now says that flu-related hospitalizations have dipped down this past week enough to pass under the threshold of what is considered an “epidemic” in the U.S.
Nevertheless, health officials note, the flu commonly vacillates during the coldest winter months, and there’s no reason to believe that H3N2 is on its way out the door. Many Americans probably don’t realize that in the past 12 winters, nine of those winters saw flu cases rise to epidemic level, and it’s no surprise that only about 40% of all Americans get vaccinated each year.
Although the flu vaccine is never 100% effective at preventing the flu, the CDC explains that the average 50-70% effectiveness of the vaccine each year should be enough to convince everyone to get a shot.
According to Dr. Joseph Bresee of the CDC, the effectiveness of this season’s flu vaccine “might be a little lower… [but] even if it’s lower, it still may provide some protection.” This “protection” often comes in the form of weaker symptoms, shorter periods of infection, and a decreased risk of developing other health complications because of the virus.
In other words, it’s not too late to get that vaccine if you haven’t gotten the flu yet, especially since the CDC notes that the H3N2 strain could be around until the spring.