Coming down with the flu is never fun, but this year it could be worse than usual.
The H3N2 strain that dominates this year’s circulating influenza viruses is just, naturally, a little bit nastier than others. On top of that, the vaccine isn’t a perfect match.
“In between the time they came up with the makeup of the flu vaccine and when the virus began circulating, the virus had changed enough so that the flu vaccine would be less effective,” explained infectious disease specialist John Goldman of Harrisburg.
Compared with typical flu vaccines, which are about 70 to 80 percent effective, Goldman said this year’s vaccine is estimated to be just 50 to 60 percent effective. But, he noted, that still means more than half the people who get vaccines will be protected.
“If you do get a case of the flu despite getting the flu shot,” Goldman added, “it’s likely to be less severe.”
With the flu season now ramping up, cases are on the rise across most parts of Pennsylvania and Delaware, which the CDC has classified with widespread disease. New Jersey has also seen increases in recent weeks, but influenza remains more localized.
Mark Zonfrillo of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has noticed the uptick.
“We’ve had a number of children who’ve already had to go to the intensive care unit because of severe influenza disease,” he said. “So this is a real threat.”
Young children and those over 65 are at highest risk for getting seriously ill. In a severe year, about 2,000 Pennsylvanians might die from influenza.