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This Flu Season – How Bad Is It?
This flu season has been one of the worst in recent years. “There are usually hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations each year due to the flu and tens of thousands of deaths,” says Lisa Maragakis, M.D., M.P.H., senior director of infection prevention for the Johns Hopkins Health System and CEPAR’s senior advisor and subject matter expert for infectious disease, epidemiology and public health. “The difference this season is that flu began to spread a few weeks earlier than usual in December and quickly spread to most states,” she says.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 200,000 people have tested positive for the flu across the country since October. Most of those cases have been caused by influenza A, more specifically the H3N2 strain of the virus. This season, the flu has caused the deaths of 133 children nationwide.
In Maryland, more than 29,000 people have tested positive for the flu — about 1,200 of those patients were from The Johns Hopkins Hospital. Influenza A is also the most common strain of the virus that has been seen statewide. Influenza-like illnesses continue to be circulating at minimal levels around the state.
“The flu is always a serious problem that we try and combat by getting people vaccinated and using very standard infection prevention strategies like washing hands and staying home when sick,” Maragakis says.
In February, the CDC released a report on the effectiveness of the flu vaccine this season. In the report, this season’s vaccine was shown to be 36 percent effective overall against both influenza A and B virus strains. The vaccine showed 25 percent effectiveness against the most prevalent strain — H3N2. The vaccine was shown to have a higher effectiveness rate against the H1N1 strain (67 percent effective) and against B viruses (42 percent effective). The vaccine was shown to be more effective against all virus strains in young children, including the risk for influenza A (H3N2), which was reduced by more than half.
Still, the flu vaccine remains the best method to prevent the spread of the virus, which can run as late as May. “So it’s not too late to get a flu shot,” Maragakis says. “Even with reports of lower effectiveness, it does provide protection.”