Flu season strikes when the temperature drops each year, and it’s not uncommon to see a second round of new flu cases after the holidays in January and February. However, this year is presenting a particularly severe outbreak in flu instances across the country, causing flu to reach an epidemic status. As more people are getting sick with the flu, more patients are being hospitalized and suffering fatalities from this common virus. So why is 2017 such a bad year for influenza? Let’s take a closer look at this particularly severe flu season.
Widespread flu activity
The CDC reports widespread flu activity in 37 states with regional and local activity spreading in others. In California, hospitals are reporting much higher rates of positive flu tests, with up to 39% of tests coming back positive for the flu as opposed to the usual 20-30%. Similar to the H1N1 outbreak of 2009, the severity of this year’s flu season can be largely attributed to the aggressive subtype of the virus that is spreading. Influenza A, subtype H3N2 is a dominant strain of flu this year that is known to cause more severe symptoms – especially among higher-risk populations, such as children and the elderly.
High rate of flu hospitalizations
Unfortunately, a higher rate of flu infections means a higher rate of hospitalizations for the flu. As people seek flu treatment, the virus can spread more rapidly throughout care environments, particularly within long-term care facilities. Even with proper sanitization and cleanliness protocols, the flu is much more likely to spread when many infected individuals are seeking care in the same place. In general, cold and flu viruses are more successful in the winter, because people spend more time in close proximity indoors. Additionally, immune system defenses are already down, because people get less vitamin D throughout the shorter days of winter.
Reduced vaccination rate
Though the flu vaccine this year is a good match to circulating strains of the virus, it is still not 100% effective. This is, in part, due to the fact that many people have failed to get the flu shot. Many healthy individuals will make the mistake of assuming they don’t need a flu shot because they are not likely to get sick, but this can decrease herd immunity, reducing the overall effectiveness of the flu vaccine. It is not too late to get a flu shot, but it’s also not a guarantee that you won’t get the flu.
If you do get the flu, you do not necessarily have to visit the hospital or doctor’s office to receive a diagnosis. With MeMD, you can have a consultation from home via webcam and get a prescription when medically necessary for anti-viral drugs that can reduce the severity and duration of your illness when taken within the first 24 hours of flu-like symptoms.