With barely a ripple of flu last season, this one is bound to be worse partly because of new influenza viruses that might be circulating, a flu expert said Thursday.
That makes it even more important to get vaccinated this season and to do it before a wave of flu hits, said Dr. James Wilde, a professor of emergency medicine at Medical College of Georgia Hospital and Clinics.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that from May 20 through Sept. 22 there were nearly 3,000 positive tests for flu, compared with an average of about 375 during the same period the previous six years. The agency said the unusually high number of cases doesn’t indicate how many cases would pop up this flu season.
“I’m not predicting that we are going to have a horrible year, but I think it is a very, very safe bet that we will have a more significant season than we had either of the last two seasons, particularly more than last season,” Wilde said. That is because last season was “essentially the year without flu,” he said.
“We did not see any significant flu activity in town,” he said. “here were a few scattered cases, but that was about it.”
This year will probably be different because, after two straight years of the same flu strains circulating in the U.S., two new strains are likely to be circulating. According to the CDC, one of the new potential strains, the influenza A H3N2 strain described during the summer, matches the strain included in this year’s vaccine. Less than half of the influenza B strains described during the summer match up with the B component in this season’s vaccine, according to the CDC. It is too early to tell whether the vaccine will be a good match, but people who do not get it will likely be without any protection from either previous vaccines or infections, as might have happened last year, Wilde said.
“If you don’t get the vaccine, you’re more likely to get sick this year than last year,” he said.
Richmond County Health Department is offering flu shots to walk-ins, and now is the time to get shots, said Purity Cummings, the child/adolescent health clinic nurse manager.
“Flu season has already started,” she said.