Mayo Expert: Main Flu Strain Being Seen Is Strong, But Vaccine Should Be Effective Against It

Date posted - January 14, 2013

Dr PolandRochester, Minnesota — If it’s not on your radar already, it should be. Influenza, or “flu” activity is becoming a big concern across the US.

Dr. Gregory Poland is a vaccine expert at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

“What we’re seeing unfortunately is a strain called influenza-a h3n2 and that’s an important seasonal virus because it is the one that causes the most morbidity and mortality in humans.”

He says the last time we saw a widespread outbreak of this strain was about a decade ago and it was responsible for thousands of deaths. Adding to the problem is the early nature of this year’s activity.

“One of the things we’re concerned about is that influeneza typically peaks in the United States in the February-March time frame. Here, we’re seeing rapidly escalating rates of influenza across the nation, almost 25-hundred people have already been hospitalized, 18-children have died, so again this is not a minor illness.”

Dr. Poland says one thing we have going for us this year is that the strains that are circulating are good matches with what’s in the vaccine this year, so if you’re an otherwise healthy person, Poland says this vaccine is going to protect you.

There’s a lot of concern about the flu right now and rightfully so. But there are a lot of other bugs floating around now too. Dr. Poland tells us how to know if the symptoms we have are really influenza.

“They are not nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. They are a sore throat, cough, high fever, muscles aches, severe muscle and joint aches that literally drive you to bed with a lot of fatigue.”

He says if you develop those symptoms . . .

“Go in and see your doctor in that first 24-48 hours because that’s really the key time period in which the anti-virals that we have are effective.”

Of course, prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you haven’t done so already, it’s not too late to get a flu shot. Wash your hands frequently. And here’s something you may not think about. If you lick something off your finger, rub your eyes, or pick your nose, you may have just infected yourself. Experts say that’s often how the virus enters the body. For more information, talk with your doctor or visit mayoclinic.org. Plus, don’t forget to listen to Mayo Clinic’s Medical Edge program heard on KIWA-FM radio, Sunday mornings, shortly after 7 AM.

Story from Mayo Clinic Medical Edge


From Orange City Area Health System:

Here is an official communication sent to us from Wendell W. Hoffman, MD FACP, Sanford Health Patient Safety Officer, Infectious Disease, and Clinical Professor of Medicine … with specific information about OCAHS as indicated…

As many of you know nationally we are witnessing what some are calling the worst seasonal influenza outbreak in the past decade. South Dakota has just joined the ranks of “widespread”, along with our surrounding neighboring states. Reasons for the severity of this flu season are likely several including the observation that Influenza A – H3N2 dominant years tend to be worse and that this year’s predominant H3N2 strain is slightly drifted from last year’s, which means that overall population immunity at baseline was likely lower (ie more at risk). This year’s mix of strains is about 75% Influenza A H3N2, 21% influenza B and only 1% Influenza A H1N1 (the 2009 pandemic strain). While we don’t know the entire impact yet to come, we are observing rising numbers of cases at nearly all of our facilities…and so want to be as prepared as much as possible. Based on historical patterns influenza reaches its peak in mid-February. Rocky ride ahead?…perhaps.

Of note there is no evidence of a new circulating strain and approximately 90% of the circulating strains of influenza are contained in this year’s influenza vaccine. This is therefore a “good match” year for the vaccine. The number of hospitalizations are beginning to rival the 2009 pandemic season. Reported deaths thus far are in the elderly population segment.

The following bullets will attempt to address and provide overall information as well as questions that we are hearing.

Vaccine related questions:
Q I’m hearing that people are coming down with the flu despite being vaccinated? Does this mean a poor match? Does this mean that the vaccine is not effective?
A – The influenza vaccine is the single most important measure that a person can take to help either avoid the flu or modify its severity. “Match” and “effectiveness” of vaccine should not be confused. As noted above, this year’s circulating strains are well matched to the 2012-2013 vaccine and so provides great potential for protection. Vaccine efficacy and effectiveness is a much more complex thing with many variables including individual ability to respond…which is affected by overall health status, presence or absence of immune compromising conditions, age etc. Other reasons for “failure” of the vaccine include strains of influenza not contained in the vaccine and other viral illnesses such as the parainfluenza viruses and RSV, which can certainly present as an “Influenza Like Illness”. Therefore please, please, please…. encourage ongoing influenza vaccination with your patients and among us as health care workers…..as a fundamental strategy in response to this situation. The CDC recommends ongoing vaccination all the way through the flu season…so we have a long way to go.

Q How safe is the influenza vaccine?
A – Influenza vaccines are among the safest of all vaccines in history

Q How is the vaccine supply doing?
A – OCAHS has access to existing supplies within our system at this time.

Flu Surge Related Questions –
Q Is OCAHS recommending visitor restrictions at this time?
A – Each facility is monitoring surge activity and decisions regarding limiting visitation is made on an institutional basis. We always advise visitors, no matter the time of year…who are ill to not enter our facility(ies). We will be discouraging larger group “tour” type visits for the time being.

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