The rates of infection with the influenza virus in the United States continue to climb, as expected at this time of year.
Before going further, we should repeat that there are many viruses that cause viral respiratory infections, and in fact, so far this year the number of such colds and flus due to the influenza virus has reached 30%, so over 2/3 of all colds and flus still are not from the influenza virus.
Now, on to the latest on the influenza virus.
We have talked before about how the influenza virus changes every spring as it leaves the human community, and every late fall when it returns to us. Sometimes the influenza virus that actually appears completely matches the subtypes in that winter's vaccine, sometimes not so much.
The current data suggest that the dominant strain appearing in the US is indeed the H3N2 strain, and it is different than the H3N2 in the flu spray and flu shot, that is, the flu vaccines for the winter of 2015.
We now know the following details on how well this year's flu vaccines protect against the H3N2 out there:
- About 50% of the H3N2 circulating do match what's in the flu vaccine, and those vaccinated are protected very well against it.
- About 50% of the H3N2 circulating do not fully match what's in the flu vaccine, but match well enough to blunt the severity of the infection.
And, a word on the terribly frightening reports on childhood deaths from the influenza virus of the winter of 2015. The total across the entire United States is 15 deaths. Each are horrifying losses, but the fact remains that across a nation of 100 million children, this number actually demonstrates that this terrible outcome is extremely unlikely.
1. If you got or get this year's influenza vaccine, by spray or shot, you will almost certainly reduce the severity of the dominant influenza virus out there, the H3N2.
2. If you got or get this year's influenza vaccine, by spray or shot, you have a 50% chance of full protection against the main influenza virus circulating right now.
3. If you got or get this year's influenza vaccine, by spray or shot, you have a 50% chance of only partial, but still significant protection against the full severity of the main influenza virus circulating right now.
4. If you haven't gotten a flu vaccine for the winter of 2015, it is not too late, we anticipate another month or two of lots of influenza virus causing lots of illness. The flu vaccine only takes 2 weeks to provide its protection.
5. Viral respiratory illnesses are a true misery. And this year's influenza virus is causing very high fevers and much suffering. But they are not dangerous infections for 99.999 (really)% of our children. This means that very nearly all children who get these infections will do what very nearly all children do when they get colds and flus- recover without hazard or complication. This year is still really not much different than others in that regard.
A Happy and Healthy New Year to all,
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