What You Need To Know About This Year’s Deadly Flu Outbreak

Photographed by Jessica Nash.
Coinciding with the deaths of three children in Minnesota, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report yesterday announcing that the proportion of deaths from pneumonia and the influenza virus now meets the threshold for an epidemic.
This means that during the week ending December 20, 6.8% (the epidemic threshold) of all reported deaths in 122 key surveillance cities were due to flu and pneumonia (a common flu-related complication). But, some states have been hit harder than others. In general, eastern states are showing higher levels of influenza-like activity, although New York City is still in the "low" range.
The severity of this year's epidemic is partly due to the fact that the current flu vaccine isn't a great match for an especially aggressive strain of the flu, known as H3N2, that has been linked to higher rates of hospitalizations and deaths. Some have speculated that this means the vaccine won't be as effective at preventing the spread of the virus as it has been in past years.
It's important to point out that the flu is much less likely to be deadly in healthy adults than in children, the elderly, and anyone with an already-compromised immune system. Although controversial, some evidence suggests that an antiviral medication (such as Tamiflu) can help those who are already sick by reducing the severity of their symptoms or shortening the duration of the illness. In most people, these medications only shorten the flu by about a day — but even that could make a huge difference for those who are vulnerable.
The flu shot — along with basic health habits — is still the best protection we have against the virus. Even if the vaccine isn't as effective this year, the CDC says it may still offer some cross-protection between strains. So, please don't skip the shot this year.

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