This year’s flu is on track to be the worst since the 2014-2015 outbreak that killed roughly 56,000 people — 148 of whom were children. Fifty-three children have now died; in addition, it has put hospitalizations at their highest rate in a decade.
According to a report by USA Today, one of the factors unnerving viral experts is that officials had expected the outbreak to peak a few weeks ago. During the last week of January, however, officials reported extremely high activity in at least 42 states. While most flu outbreaks move from region to region as the season progresses, according to Dan Jernigan, director of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) influenza division, this year’s flu has seemed to hit the United States in one big wave.
Part of the reason for the unusually high numbers is the particularly dangerous strain of influenza called H3N2. While it has had the most impact on people older than 65, the strain is also a large factor driving hospitalizations of children. Since the beginning of the year, H3N2 has resulted in several school closings aimed at preventing the virus’s spread as well.
The direction this flu season will take is still unclear, but what officials do know is that vaccines have proven to be much less effective against H3N2. According to the CDC, flu vaccinations will only prevent about 30 percent of H3N2 infections. While that may be the prognosis for the U.S., assessment in Canada and Australia are far bleaker. Canada says vaccine effectiveness against the outbreak is more like 17 percent while in Australia it’s only 7 percent.
While a vaccination might not completely stave off the flu this season, it will certainly make the symptoms far less severe as well as reduce one’s ability to spread the disease to others. Doctors are still saying that along with vaccinations, staying home when sick and coughing into your elbow fulcrum are some of the best ways to prevent the virus from spreading at such a rapid rate.