This year’s flu season has proven to be one of the harshest in recent history. The infection rate, which is based on the number of people with flu-like symptoms, stands at 7.7 percent (Flu Season Facts) which is equivalent to the rate of the record-breaking 2009 flu season pandemic. Many have fallen victim to the flu, including 63 children who died from the infection. Why is this flu season worse than other years and causing a tremendous wave of fear? The answer lies in this year’s predominant flu strain: H3N2.
The creation of flu vaccines is based of the particular flu strains of the given year. Scientists are tasked with predicting the particular strains they believe will be present in the next season. The current flu virus consists of the strains H1N, H3N2 and B/Victoria. The main strain behind this historic season, H3N2, is not typically seen in many flu seasons and as a result, people have not built an immunity to it. Also, it is similar to a flu strain known as H1N1, which was responsible for the 1918 flu pandemic and the 2009 swine flu, according to a National Geographic article.
According to the Flu Season Facts article in New York Times, H3N2 “mutates more than other strains,” increasing the chance of infection even for those who are vaccinated. As a result, people have been hesitant to get the vaccine if it will prove to be ineffective; but they shouldn’t. With this season still looming until March, it is important to receive this year’s flu shot, if you have not already.
Despite H3N2’s strength against vaccines, “ineffective” would not be the word to describe this season’s protection. The overall goal of a vaccine is not to destroy all chance of receiving a virus, but to instead help reduce its effects. With this season’s strength claiming the lives of 63 children, it is imperative to get all the help possible to combating the flu. Some protection is better than no protection.
Another factor persuading people to steer clear of the vaccine is the risk of harmful effects that may come with receiving it. According to the Center for Disease Control, common side effects include soreness, redness, swelling or low-grade fevers. Although possible, only around two percent of flu shot participants suffer a fever as a side effect.
The flu vaccine takes approximately two weeks to become effective so some participants may have contracted the flu before the shot and blame it on the vaccine. Since the vaccine only contains dead virus cells, it is impossible to get the flu from the vaccine.
This flu season has shown it is a force to be reckoned with. Educating yourself about how to protect yourself (wash those hands) from this year’s flu outbreak and the benefits of receiving a vaccine, will give you a stronger defense against the virus. In the end, any protection is better than no protection.