According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 7000 cases of flu have been confirmed in the US this year, which is almost twice as many as was reported this time last year. This season has seen eight fatalities so far, including two in Oklahoma and five in North Carolina. 90% of states in the US has reported outbreaks of flu, and according to the CDC report, the illness is widespread in four states – Georgia, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Massachusetts.

Flu can cause potentially fatal complications in high risk groups, which include pneumonia, dehydration, infections and muscle inflammation. Those most at risk of complications are the elderly, young children, pregnant women and those with existing medical conditions. It’s recommended for all high risk individuals over 6 months old to have an annual vaccination to reduce the risks associated with influenza.

Mary Anderson, manager of infection control at Edward Hospital in Naperville, Ill warned that flu outbreaks can pose a much greater threat to public health than colds and other winter illnesses, and that the strain of the virus called H3N2 is a particular case for concern among health professionals. Anderson said that “Those strains hit hardest among the very young and very old. Vaccinations can decrease the chance of spreading the virus to at-risk populations.”

Although vaccination is always recommended by healthcare providers as the best way of protecting the public, it’s now been reported that the vaccine is only 10% effective against the H3N2 strain.  Martin Hirsch, an infectious disease physician at Massachusetts General Hospital said that while 10 percent seems like a low percentage, “flu vaccines are usually only about 40 percent to 60 percent effective in the best of years. Even if the vaccine is only 10 percent effective against H3N2, the vaccine does protect against other strains that are circulating,” he said. “The most important thing is still to get your flu vaccine.” 

The flu virus has caused millions of illnesses in the US every year since 2010, with figures being anything between 9 million and 35 million annually. According to the CDC, cases of winter flu have caused between 140,000 and 710,000 hospitalisations every year, which results in between 12,000 and 56,000 deaths, most of which were those from more vulnerable groups of society.  

The flu vaccination is still being recommended as the best way of protecting the public, but people can also take other preventative measures to help reduce the spread of the virus. “Wash your hands frequently, cover your mouth when you cough, and stay home when you’re sick,” Anderson said.

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