Since December 2014, Pennsylvania has seen a sizable uptick in the number of flu cases compared to 2013. The surge can be attributed in part to a powerful strain known as H3N2, which does not match exactly with the components of this season’s vaccine.
Scientists determine vaccines nearly a year in advance of each season, allowing manufacturers enough time to create them. But during those months, it’s not unusual for viruses to “drift,” or mutate, making them more resistant to the shot.
Experts still recommend that individuals get vaccinated since the vaccine protects against other strains that are circulating and may offer some resistance to H3N2.
Who Should Care
Those with weakened immune systems, including the elderly, are especially susceptible to the flu, also known as influenza. “In Pennsylvania there were 36 confirmed deaths through the end of the year,” said David Nace, MD, director of UPMC’s Long-term Care and Flu Programs in the Department of Geriatric Medicine and medical director at the Aging Institute. “Of those [deaths], 32 were of individuals 65 and older… We’re seeing a number of outbreaks in nursing homes right now.”
Dr. Nace and his research team discovered that a high-dose flu vaccine, Fluzone High-Dose, gives older adults a better chance at warding off the flu or recovering from it than the regular vaccine. It’s specially formulated for adults above the age of 65 and contains four times the antibody-producing antigen of standard flu shots.
Pregnant women have a higher risk of contracting the flu than their counterparts. Changes to the body, including the immune system, as well as the baby’s weight pressing against the mother’s lungs play a role in why pregnant women are more likely to contract the flu. Women may not realize that some aches and pains and difficulty breathing are signs of influenza and not a result of pregnancy.
If not treated, the flu can progress to pneumonia or other serious illness, hospitalization or death of pregnant women. It also increases the chances of premature labor and delivery.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), pregnant women experience the same side effects as anyone else receiving the flu vaccination. They may experience soreness or redness at the site of the injection and can display such symptoms as fever, nausea, and body aches – similar to symptoms brought on by the flu. These symptoms should only last a day or two.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and FDA and the CDC conducted studies regarding the impact of flu vaccines on pregnant women and unborn babies for more than a decade. The benefits of a pregnant woman receiving a flu vaccination far outweigh any negatives.
Because of their underdeveloped immune systems, children are among the most vulnerable for contracting influenza. And according to Dr. Nace, children under the age of 4 and, particularly,babies 6 months and younger, may be most affected by the H3N2 flu virus.
For the season, 60 in-patients at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh tested positive for the flu, with the number of cases fluctuating each week. There have been no deaths.
The CDC recommends that children6 months and older get the vaccine, which is available as a nasal spray and shot to reduce the risk of contracting the flu this season or the severity of flu symptoms. The vaccine is available as a nasal spray and shot. Because children under the age of 6 months cannot get the flu vaccine, the CDC recommends that parents and caregivers of very young children get the flu vaccine to minimize the risk of exposure to children.
How Can You Reduce Your Risk of Getting the Flu
Everyone is at risk of getting the flu this season, but there are a number of ways you can help reduce your risk and help halt the spread of the disease.
- Avoid close quarters while you’re sick.
- Stay at home at least until you no longer have a fever.
- Sanitizing surfaces with antiseptic wipes.
- Wash your hands frequently.
- Cough or sneeze into your elbow.
If you think you may have the flu, avoid spending time around those who may be more susceptible, such as the elderly, pregnant women, infants, or children. Above all, consider making an appointment to receive a flu shot as a preventative measure. Pittsburgh-area residents are welcome to receive their annual flu vaccinations at any UPMC Urgent Care.