This year’s flu virus is storming across the United States and leaving devastation in its wake.
The flu is being described as widespread in 46 states and has resulted in deaths and hospitalizations, according to the Centers For Disease Control.
The number of reported flu cases this year is four times the amount from the same time a year ago, CBS Philadelphia reported.
It is still too soon to say just how bad this flu season will be, but the CDC believes it could reach near epidemic levels.
Young children are being especially hard hit.
Eight-month-old Kingston Smith is hospitalized with the flu, among roughly 10,000 children under the age of 4 who have been hospitalized.
“About four days ago, he started breathing hard, vomiting, having fevers, so I drove here to the hospital and they said, ‘Yes, we need to keep him,’” his mother, Shareeka, said.
There are 100 people who have died from the flu this year and of those, 13 were children.
“Unfortunately, it can cause a lot of complications. Children can get severely sick, actually need to be in the ICU,” infectious disease specialist Dr. Claire Bocchini said.
New Jersey has more than 2,000 confirmed cases, 11 of which are severe, and has had one death, according to CBS.
What is making matters worse is the strain that hit this year, H3N2, is particularly rough on children and the elderly.
“In years where there is H3N2, we do see far more deaths,” CDC influenza division director Dr. Daniel Jernigan said.
Pennsylvania has been hit hard by the virus, with more than 11,000 cases and 18 deaths.
“It’s possible that a lot of folks got together during the winter holidays. And so, with all those folks getting together, they’re able to transmit flu and then take it and send it onto other folks, and so there’s been a lot of that,” Jernigan said.
And the flu shot is not as effective this season as it has been in the past, ABC News reported:
The predominant flu strain this year is H3N2, a form of influenza A. This strain is included in this year’s flu vaccine, but information on how effective the vaccine has been is typically not available until the flu season is over.
Vaccine effectiveness typically ranges from 40 to 60 percent in a good year. Preliminary estimates from last year show the vaccine was 40 percent effective in the U.S., similar to 2014-2015.
Concerns have been raised about this year’s vaccine after an editorial published in the New England Journal of Medicine last Thursday said it was only 10 percent effective against H3N2 in Australia.
Schaffner cautions against using this statistic to predict how well the vaccine will work in the U.S., since this is not official CDC data, but warns it could be a bad sign.
“We are being affected by the basically same virus and using basically the same vaccine,” he said.
Additionally, years in which H3N2 is the predominant influenza strain tend to have higher death rates, with approximately 20,000 deaths in the 2012-2013 and 2014-2015 seasons when H3N2 predominated.
But there is some good news. This year’s flu appears to be susceptible to Tamiflu and other flu medications, of which there are not expected to be shortages.
And it is still better to get a flu shot than not.
“It’s an imperfect vaccine, but it’s the best we have, and it still does provide a terrific amount of protection — complete protection and partial protection,” Dr. William Schaffner, infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University, said. “You contribute to your own protection and a healthier community — a community where there is less likelihood of spread.”
“There is dual benefit for the pregnant woman to get vaccinated,” Schaffner continued. “Not only will she get protection, but she’ll also pass those antibodies along to her infant, which will protect them for the first 6 months of life when the infant is too young to get the vaccine. And the vaccine is safe for pregnant women and the fetus.”
But it is late in the season, which is why Schaffner said “do not walk, run” to your doctor or pharmacy to get the vaccine.