Flu Myths Vs. Facts: Deaths On Rise, But Vaccine More Effective Than Reports

Flu Myths Vs. Facts: Deaths On Rise, But Vaccine More Effective Than Reports

With the recent, nationally-publicized deaths of so many young people due to the flu, a lot of folks in Kane County probably are wondering whether they or their family members are at risk.

Within the last week, influenza has claimed the life of a 10-year-old hockey player from New Canaan, CT, a 40-year-old mom from San Jose, CA, and a 21-year-old bodybuilder from Latrobe, PA, among others.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention weekly surveillance report, seven pediatric deaths were reported during the week ending Jan. 6, bringing the total for the season to 20.

On,  Jan. 12, the CDC’s Kathy Harben, CDC Director Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald and Dr. Dan Jernigan, director of the influenza division in CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases responded to questions from the national media.

Here are a few takeaways from that interview.

H3N2 Is the Primary Culprit

BRENDA FITZGERALD: So far this season, influenza A, H3N2, has been the most common form of influenza. These viruses are often linked to more severe illness, especially among children and people age 65 and older.

When H3 viruses are predominant, we tend to have a worse flu season with more hospitalizations and more deaths. While our surveillance systems show that nationally the flu season may be peaking now, we know from past experience that it will take many more weeks for flu activity to truly slow down.

What To Do If You Are Very Sick

DAN JERNIGAN: CDC recommends that people who are very sick or people with flu symptoms who are high-risk for serious flu complications should be treated as soon as possible with flu antiviral drugs.

Who are those people? That means people that are 65 and older. It means young children. It means people with chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease or asthma. It means pregnant women and others more vulnerable to serious flu illness.

Clinicians should not wait for confirmed testing, but they should begin treatment if they suspect flu in a severely ill or high-risk patient.

For more information, go to our website. All of this antiviral guidance is there. In addition, a health alert notice was sent out to health care providers.

No Evidence of a H3N2 Mutation

MAGGIE FOX (NBC NEWS): And there’s no indication there’s been unexpected mutation of this strain of H3N2 that is circulating? No indication of inhibitors resistance, correct?

JERNIGAN: Right. With regard to the antiviral drugs and resistance, we are not seeing really any of these viruses that are currently circulating that will not work with the antiviral drugs.

Currently, there’s also Oseltamivir, there is also Zanamivir which is an inhaled drug, there’s a new drug called Peramivir which can be given through an IV and it can be given to children now. In severe cases, there’s more options than we had before and that’s a good thing. We’re not seeing any of that resistance develop right now.

Vaccine Is Only 10% Effective, Right? (Wrong)

DAN JERNIGAN: Our information so far suggests that vaccine effectiveness against the predominant H3 viruses will probably be somewhere around what we saw in the 2016-2017 season, which was in the 30 percent range. While this is better than the 10 percent that has been reported from Australia in one study, it still leaves a lot to be desired and we’re very well aware we need to have better flu vaccines.

BRENDA GOODMAN (WEB MD): Hi, Dr. Jernigan, I just wanted to get a clarification on the 30 percent estimated vaccine effectiveness. Was that for — is that your early estimate for overall vaccine effectiveness or is that against H3N2 specifically?

DAN JERNIGAN: Yes. That was the H3N2 specific — the low 30s. The overall for 2016-2017 was 39, so almost 40 percent overall looking at the effectiveness of the vaccine against all the different circulating viruses that year. When we look at just for the H3 component, which was the predominant virus that year, last year, it was in the low 30s.

Is This An Epidemic? (Yep)

NANCY BURTON (WEATHER CHANNEL): Is this outbreak being called an epidemic and if not, how close is it to being called an epidemic?

JERNIGAN: Well, epidemic really just refers to an impact upon the people of an infectious disease. Each year in the United States we have an epidemic of flu, so, clearly yes, this is an epidemic.

We have very specific criteria where we can say the epidemic is beginning and ending based on when flu activity goes above a certain baseline. So we’ve clearly passed that baseline back in November and we’re at the peak of it now.