A flu strain that affects children and the elderly more severely than other strains is currently dominant in the US
A sign advertising flu shots is displayed at a Walgreens pharmacy on January 22, 2018 in San Francisco, California. The powerful H3N2 flu strain has claimed the lives of 74 Californians under the age of 65 since flu season began last October.
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images
A flu strain that hits children and the elderly worse than other types of the virus is currently dominant in the US, setting the country up for a potentially bad flu season.
Public health laboratories detected influenza A(H3N2) in 76% of more than 3,500 respiratory samples that tested positive for influenza and were analyzed for the subtype of the virus, according to a surveillance report released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. .
The H3N2 variant has been associated with more severe flu seasons for children and the elderly in the past, according to Dr. Jose Romero, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
“There are also early signs of influenza causing severe illness in exactly these two groups of individuals this season,” Romero told reporters during a call earlier this month.
The rate of hospitalizations due to the flu this season has risen to the highest level in a decade. Overall, about 8 people per 100,000 are currently hospitalized for the flu, but the elderly and the youngest children are much harder hit than other age groups, according to the CDC.
The hospitalization rate for the elderly is more than double that of the general population at 18 per 100,000. For children under five, the hospitalization rate is about 13 per 100,000.
At least 4.4 million people have contracted the flu, 38,000 have been hospitalized, and 2,100 have died since the start of the season. Seven children have died from the flu so far this season.
“When we have more H3N2, we tend to have a more severe flu season — so longer duration, more children infected, more children with severe disease,” said Dr. Andi Shane, a pediatrician and infectious disease specialist at Children’s Healthcare Atlanta.
Another strain of influenza A, H1N1, is generally associated with less severe seasons compared to H3N2, Shane said. H1N1 accounts for about 22% of samples that tested positive for the flu and were analyzed for subtype, according to the CDC.
The percentage of patients reporting flu-like symptoms, a temperature of 100 degrees or higher plus a sore throat or cough, is currently highest in Virginia, Tennessee, South Carolina, Alabama and Washington DC, according to the CDC.
Respiratory illnesses are also very high in Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Kentucky, New Jersey, Maryland, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina and Texas, according to the CDC.
The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age or older get the flu shot. Children under the age of 8 who are being vaccinated for the first time should receive two doses for the best protection.
The flu shot is usually 40% to 60% effective at preventing illness, but people who do get sick are less likely to end up in the hospital or die, according to the CDC.
Public health officials also encourage people to stay home when they are sick, cover coughs and sneezes, and wash their hands frequently. Those who want to take extra precautions may consider wearing a face mask indoors in public.