The article published on February 16, 2008 in the Posted on Sat, Feb. 16, 2008 is not available online. This article presents the same AP information.
Rima E. Laibow, MD
Natural Solutions Foundation
Flu season gets worse, vaccine only works on 40 percent of viruses
By Ashley Tusan Joyner – firstname.lastname@example.org
Georgia is among 44 states reporting widespread flu activity, up from 31 states last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday.
“This season, we are having more widespread disease than the last couple of consecutive seasons,” said Dr. Joe Bresee, the CDC’s chief of influenza epidemiology. “But (this season) is not out of line with previous seasons in the last (decade).”
Adding to the problem, health officials report the flu shot is a good match for only about 40 percent of this year’s viruses – leaving a large portion of the vaccinated population unprotected.
H3N2, known as the Brisbane-like strain, and a Type B strain (B2) are the two predominant strains of flu virus, which are mostly resistant to the vaccine.
Other antiviral medications, such as Tamiflu, appear to treat the H3N2 strain.
This year’s vaccine was manufactured based on studies of the previous flu season, during which H3N2 and B2 did not account for the majority of cases and, thus, were not matched well in the vaccine. The process largely is based on medical prediction.
“In seasons where we have H3N2, we tend to have a more widespread season,” said Bresee, adding the strain makes the flu season more severe, citing higher cases of pneumonia and flu-related deaths.
“Most areas of (Georgia) are experiencing flu-like illness,” said Taka Wiley of the Georgia Department of Human Resources. “Metro Atlanta and coastal Georgia have the most activity at this time.”
Now is the height of the annual flu season, which began Sept. 30 and continues until May.
In Middle Georgia, the B2 strain is the version many people have contracted, according to the state’s public health department.
Described as a mild flu – mild fever, mild body aches and manageable other symptoms – the illness is causing sick people, who don’t feel all that sick, not to stay at home and recover, further spreading the bug.
The CDC tracks national flu activity based on reports from health departments and hospitals in 122 cities, including Macon. One in three people tested for the flu this week tested positive, up from last week, Bresee said.
The Family Health Center on Eisenhower Parkway, a division of The Medical Center of Central Georgia, reported to the CDC six cases of flu between Thursday and Friday, according to Dr. Hugh McLaurin, medical director.
McLaurin said the facility has treated twice as many patients for flu-like symptoms in the last week.
“We’re right in the beginning where it’s hitting Middle Georgia,” he said.
While not compatible with the two popular flu strains, health officials still urge people to get the flu vaccine.
“Even though it’s not a perfect match, it can still offer some cross protection for other strains,” said Arleen Porcell, a CDC spokeswoman. “It can also help make symptoms milder and protect the body from complications.”
Common flu symptoms include a high fever, body aches and chills, headaches, dry cough and possibly a runny or stuffy nose. A normal bout with the flu lasts one to two weeks.
Linda Holland, nurse manager at the Macon-Bibb County Health Department, said the health center has immunized more than 6,000 people since October.
Holland said young children, the elderly, persons infected with HIV/AIDS, cancer patients and others with immune deficiencies and heart or kidney disease are most susceptible to contracting the flu.
“These are the vulnerable populations that need to be especially careful,” she said.
As of Friday, the CDC reported 10 pediatric deaths from the flu. Nine of those occurred after Jan. 1.
“Pediatric deaths are tragic events,” said Bresee. “We’ve monitored them for the past four years. This year is not particularly unexpected given data from previous years.”
During the last three years, there have been approximately 60 cases of flu-related child deaths, he added.
Thursday, the World Health Organization announced its recommendation for next year’s vaccine for the Northern Hemisphere. The components are different than this year’s and now include H3N2.