This Flu Season Hit Middle-aged People Harder than Children
This year’s flu season is rapidly winding down and is expected to end within the next 2 weeks or so, US health officials predicted last week.
It was a year much like the past few flu seasons, when the H3N2 virus was the most prevalent strain. That strain usually is hardest on the elderly and the very young.
But this flu season middle-aged people were more affected than children, said an epidemiologist with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“We are not done yet, there’s still flu out there, but it is declining,” she said. “This is the 1st week that influenza A and B are both going down.”
The Y 2016-2017 season followed a typical course, she said. “We had a large wave of influenza H3N2 and then we had a smaller wave of influenza B at the end, not an uncommon pattern.”
However, the really young seemed to be less affected than in a typical H3N2 year, she said. “The hospitalization rates for 50- to 64-year-olds was higher than infants to 4-year-olds. We have not seen that before in an H3N2 year,” she said.
In a typical flu season, flu complications, including pneumonia send more than 200,000 Americans to the hospital. Death rates fluctuate annually, but have gone as high as 49,000 in a year, according to the CDC.
This season, 72 children died from flu complications, the CDC said. In a typical flu season, an estimated 100 US children die of complications from the disease.
While this year’s vaccine was well-matched against the circulating strains, it was about 48% effective. That means those who were vaccinated had about a 50% chance of avoiding the flu.
“It is not as good as we would like, but for an H3N2 predominant year, that’s good,” she said.
Typically, the flu vaccine is between 50 to 60% effective, although the level of protection varies by the strain of the viruses. The vaccine is usually less effective against the H3N2 strain.
Although the flu season is all but over in the Northern Hemisphere, it is just ramping up in the Southern Hemisphere, so if you are traveling there it is a good idea to get vaccinated.
Next year’s vaccine is based on the flu strains now circulating in the Southern Hemisphere. It appears that the same H3N2 and B viruses that were seen this year will be the predominant strains next season. The only change to the Y 2017-18 vaccine is a tweak to the H1N1 component to take into account a genetic change in that virus.
Next season’s vaccine will become available in September, then “we start the cycle over again,” she said.
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