Severe Flu Season Tightens Its Grip on U.S.

From Drugs.com - January 9, 2018

Severe Flu Season Tightens Its Grip on U.S.

TUESDAY, Jan. 9, 2018 -- Americans are being hit with one of the worst flu seasons in years, with misery now widespread across 46 states, health officials say.

In the West, emergency rooms in California and Arizona are packed with people struck by the flu, and drugs that ease the illness are in short supply as doctors struggle with a sharp spike in cases.

Further complicating matters, many hospitals nationwide are struggling with a shortage of bags that contain fluids that deliver medicine to treat dehydrated patients, including flu patients. The reason: many of the bags are produced by factories in Puerto Rico, which is still dealing with power problems caused by Hurricane Maria in mid-November.

Meanwhile, flu cases are also widespread across the Northeast, and in Florida health workers are reporting a January surge in severe cases.

Virtually no region of the country has been spared, as an imperfect vaccine and a long bout of cold, wintry weather are conspiring to turn this flu season into a severe one.

The South, Midwest, Southwest and West have been particularly hard hit, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"This is not unexpected," said Lynnette Brammer, an epidemiologist in the CDC's influenza division. "Over the holidays, flu activity increased a good bit. On a national level, the drugs are still there, but in areas hard hit by flu the local pharmacy may not have them."

To make matters worse, the flu vaccine is not a good match with the H3N2 flu strain that is dominating the season so far, she said. At this point, 80 percent of reported flu cases are this more severe strain, according to the CDC.

Dr. Daniel Jernigan, director of the CDC's influenza division, told The New York Times, "H3N2 is a bad virus. We hate H3N2."

H3N2 also tends to be very bad news for the very young and the very old.

Dr. Matthew Mullarky, an emergency room doctor at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif., told the Los Angeles Times that half of the patients he saw on a recent shift were so sick they had to be admitted to the hospital. Most were older than 85, and struggling with both the flu and pneumonia.

"It's incredibly scary," Mullarky added.

The CDC does not keep track of how many adults die from flu, but it can be as many as 60,000 in a bad season. The agency does track child deaths. So far, 13 U.S. kids have died from flu, Brammer said.

This year's vaccine contains the same mix as last year's shot. That vaccine was 43 percent effective against the H3N2 virus and 48 percent effective overall, according to the CDC.

The vaccine may be less effective against H3N2 strains because it's manufactured in chicken eggs, which some recent research has shown interact with H3 strains, making them less like the circulating strain and therefore less effective.


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