We have all seen the headlines. The flu virus is running rampant across the country. The reason for this year’s glut of flu patients centers around the relative ineffectiveness of the flu vaccine. Normally the yearly flu shot is about 50-60 percent effective when matched with the correct strain.
This year? That effectiveness has dropped to below 25 percent. That means more people getting sick, and more at-risk patients exposed to potentially lethal consequences. The CDC is urging urgent care centers and hospitals to aggressively treat the flu with antivirals.
An issue with this is that it’s not easy diagnosing the flu without a lab test – which can take up to a day to complete. And patients? Be prepared for one weird feeling nose swab. Already had it performed on me three times this season.
Across the country, the flu season is beginning to peak, so doctor offices can start to breathe a bit easier. There are places, such as San Francisco where the season is still on a steep swing. Hence, the repeated CDC advisories on antiviral medication.
Yearly Flu Shot
This year’s predominant flu virus is a variation of Type A, subtype H3N2, that has mutated away from the strain that public health officials had planned for. The vaccine was for an unmutated strain, and the current vaccine has little effect on it.
A typical seasonal flu vaccine is developed by drugmakers based on what has circulated in the Southern Hemisphere during its flu season. This plan works about 80-90 percent of the time. This year happens to be one of the 10-20 percent periods. The flu strain mutated between seasons, rendering the vaccine less effective.
That doesn’t mean doctors are saying forget the flu shot. Officials maintain that the 25 percent protection it affords is better than zero protection.
Use of Antivirals
With an ineffective flu vaccine, the CDC wants doctors and hospitals to ramp up use of antivirals. In the past, only 1 in 6 patients severely ill with the flu ever receive antivirals.
The reason is the drug class is not very effective. Most people with the flu need to be given antivirals within the first 48-hour period. How many people do you know get the first symptoms and head for the doctor? Most wait because, like me, they despise going to the doctor.
After 48 hours, the effectiveness drops considerably as your immune system kicks in. For severely ill patients, doctors want to see more patients be given the antivirals. This subset of patients have not been studied with antivirals, and the drugs could shorten or improve their symptoms.
Experts implore patients to educate themselves about antivirals, especially if you have other conditions. People with diabetes and heart disease should be especially proactive in their healthcare.
Even if the drugs only knock a day off the illness, it’s worth it.
If you are experiencing flu-like symptoms, definitely see your doctor immediately.