Signs point to rough year for flu

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

It’s still a good idea to get a flu vaccination, but don’t count on escaping the effects of the virus this year.

By some reports, the effectiveness of this year’s vaccine is only 10 percent effective, but that’s not as bad as it sounds. Flu shots are only about 40 to 60 percent effective in their best years.

That’s because the flu virus mutates easily, and vaccines have to be prepared long before health officials know which strain will be prevalent.

More than 7,000 cases of influence have been confirmed in the United States so far this season, more than double last year, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. Those most vulnerable include older adults, very young children, pregnant women and people with certain long-term health conditions.

Eight people have died so far, including one in Arizona, two in Oklahoma and five in North Carolina.

The culprit is the H3N2 virus, which is widespread and nearly immune to this year’s vaccine, but the shots do a better job of protecting against other strains.

Since 2010, the flu virus has caused between 9.2 million and 35.6 million illnesses in the U.S., according to the CDC. Those resulted in between 140,000 and 710,000 hospitalizations and between 12,000 and 56,000 deaths each year.

We’re talking about influenza, of course, not “stomach flu,” which is not the same.

The latter, gastroenteritis, can be caused by anything from bacteria to viruses, parasites, food reactions and unclean water.

Flu is strictly viral and causes symptoms like fever, congestion, muscle aches and fatigue.

Besides getting your flu vaccination, wash your hands frequently, cover your mouth when you cough and stay home when you’re sick.

Other, unofficial remedies may include “curative” foods and beverages high in vitamin C, honey, garlic and oregano, eucalyptus oil added to bath water or inhaled to clear up sinuses, and other herbs, spices and supplements.

Researchers have hopes for a new type of flu vaccine that is created using genetic information from earlier versions of the flu, making the shots more effective against a wider variety of the disease.

Until the vaccinations are more highly effective, we’ll just have to do what we can to stay healthy and keep the seasonal curse from spreading.

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