CDC: Flu Vaccine May Offer Less Protection This Winter

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CDC: Flu Vaccine May Offer Less Protection This Winter
CDC: Flu Vaccine May Offer Less Protection This Winter

FRIDAY, Dec. 5, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- The H3N2 strain of influenza appears to be circulating most widely this season, and in the past, death rates from H3N2 have been more than double that of other flu strains, according to officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, about half of the H3N2 viruses detected by CDC researchers so far appear to have mutated, and have genetically "drifted" away from the virus strain included in this year's flu vaccine.

CDC officials are urging doctors to use antiviral drugs as soon as possible for any suspected flu cases. The CDC is recommending that doctors not wait for the results of a flu test before starting patients on antiviral drugs, as they are most effective when given within two days of the onset of symptoms. A CDC health advisory issued Wednesday urges doctors to aggressively use antiviral drugs in suspected flu patients who are: younger than 2 years old; 65 or older; suffering from chronic disease -- such as asthma, diabetes, heart or lung disease -- or have a suppressed immune system; pregnant; morbidly obese; residents of nursing homes or chronic-care facilities.

Even though this year's vaccine does not directly protect against this particular H3N2 strain, CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., said during a news briefing, it is still recommended that people get their annual flu shot. The vaccine will protect against several active strains of flu, and could even provide some protection against mutated flu viruses, he said. "If we have a severe season, getting a vaccine that provides even partial protection may be more important than ever," he added.

According to CDC surveillance data, seasonal flu activity has increased slightly but is still within regular parameters. Only Louisiana and Puerto Rico were experiencing high levels of influenza-like illness, as of Nov. 22.

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