Medical experts warn about new flu strain emerging

Brian Snyder  Reuters

"This being a particularly bad flu year, people can still get prevention with a vaccine", Solomon said.

"We have both of mix of influenza A and B at the same time". Australia's end-of-season estimates found even less effectiveness against the same strain for that nation's vaccine: a mere 10 percent.

"It's awful to see your child with a breathing mask on her face", said Stephanie Calvin, 35, of Mandeville, Louisiana, whose 4-year-old daughter has been sick with flu for four weeks. Seriously ill patients are advised to call a doctor before deciding whether to go to the emergency room. Hospitalizations are also at record levels. That may not seem like many people, but not enough flu vaccines were produced for every single American to be vaccinated. When well matched to circulating viruses, its effectiveness is about 60 percent.

"During the 2014-15 season, when vaccine efficacy against medically attended illness caused by any influenza virus was less than 20 percent, vaccination was estimated to prevent 11,000-144,000 influenza-associated hospitalizations and 300-4,000 influenza-associated deaths", the CDC team wrote. It still provides some protection, it can lessen the illness's severity, keep people out of the hospital, and save lives.

"That's higher than we typically see for H3N2", said Ed Belongia, an infectious-disease epidemiologist at the Marshfield Clinic Research Institute in Wisconsin.

The CDC said they believe in the US, a better indicator is the vaccine's effectiveness a year ago. That could explain why children have been responding better to this season's vaccine.

The Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 831 new cases for the week ending February 10, down from the 876 new cases the previous week, but still the second-highest number of new cases for the 2017-18 flu season, which runs from October through May. On Prince Edward Island, there have been 163 reported cases of the flu and three deaths. Monday, the Haverhill first grader became Massachusetts' first child to die of a flu-related illness. A shortage of Tami-Flu is also complicating matters.

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Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, flanked by officials including the surgeon general, the head of the Food and Drug Administration and the acting head of the CDC, noted that he, his wife and children had been vaccinated and said "so has President Trump".

"My wife got nervous after learning about the death of a little girl from Golden Hill", Richard Kanan said.

People with underlying health conditions who are between the ages of 2 and 64 should consult their doctor about which vaccines they should receive and when. This year's vaccine protects against Type A H1N1, H3N2, and two Type B strains which are most likely to occur this season. Immune responses differ by age, and previous infection or vaccination history can affect vaccine protection. That "may make you better able to respond to that type of virus decades later", yet less able to fight off other strains. Salamanca Central School District recently closed for a day to disinfect after being faced with a higher-than-average rate of flu related absences in students.

Maine's more populated counties have been hit hardest with the flu.

Adding to the threat is that this year's vaccine "doesn't appear to be working as well as we would like", Frieden said. One is grown in dog kidney cells, and the other is a synthetic virus grown in insect cells.

The CDC says it is still too soon to tell if one formulation works better than another.

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