The flu season is upon us, and it looks like it is going to be a doozy. Flu vaccines this year are not as effective as they have been in the past, due to a mutation in the most common variety of the virus. This has resulted in vaccines providing only about half the protection people are used to, and epidemic levels of infection. The season is not even yet into full swing, and experts are predicting a tough year as the virus spreads across Atlanta and the nation.
Over half of the counties in Georgia have been affected by the flu, pointing to a widespread epidemic of the virus. Reports of cases are increasing, and show no signs of slowing down for some time yet.
The most common strain of the flu, H3N2, has mutated from the version against which the vaccine was designed to protect. This is leading to experts expressing deep concern about how serious this season will be. The CDC has reported that a full two-thirds of cases encountered this year were the mutated strain.
One of the most interesting effects of this mutation and the associated vaccine is that the symptoms of the virus are somewhat different than we are used to seeing. It seems that even though the virus has mutated, the vaccine is still interacting with it on some level, providing milder protection.
This current flu virus includes a much lower presentation of respiratory issues. Coughing and sore throats are still very common, as are aches, fatigue and loss of appetite. The fatigue seems to be the worst symptom so far.
Colds vs. Flu
The symptoms of the flu this year are very similar to those of a really bad cold, but when the infected are tested, the results indicate infection by influenza A. The danger here is that doctors could mistake flu infection for bacterial infection and prescribe antibiotics which will be of no help against the virus.
Flu Shots vs. Mild Flu
Doctors have put forth the theory that even though the flu virus is mutated from its expected strain, the shot is still providing some protection, resulting in lessened symptoms. Another theory, however, says that the new mutation may simply be a milder form. While cases of infection are increasing, the severity of these cases are in many cases somewhat lessened.
Regardless of which theory is correct, doctors stress that getting the shot is still the best way to protect yourself. The H3N2 strain is not the only flu strain out there, and the vaccine can protect against other strains. If it does lessen the severity of the common strain, that is better than no protection at all.
How Do I Know?
The simple truth is, if you get sick the best thing to do is call the doctor. A doctor can run tests to check and see if what you have is a common cold, a bacterial infection, or the flu. What are your thoughts about the flu season this year? Leave a comment and let us know!