Health officials in Onondaga County, New York report today that there has been a total of 550 flu cases reported and seven confirmed flu-related deaths in the Central New York County. Each of those who succumbed to the flu had underlying medical conditions and was elderly; some previously having had a flu vaccine this season.

Central New York
Onondaga County, New York/David Benbennick

This has prompted Commissioner of Health, Indu Gupta, MD, MPH, to recommend, “If you have symptoms of the flu, even if you have had a flu vaccine this season, seek medical attention immediately for early and prompt treatment of the flu”.

Onondaga County, as well as New York State, is in the middle of a severe flu season. In fact, nationally, widespread influenza activity was reported by Guam and 46 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

H3N2 viruses continue to predominate in the United States this season, accounting for more than 95 percent of all influenza reported to CDC from U.S. WHO and NREVSS collaborating laboratories. In the past, H3N2-predominant seasons have been associated with more severe illness and higher mortality, especially in older people and young children, relative to H1N1- or B-predominant seasons.

Last week, CDC director Tom Frieden said, “We still have weeks of flu activity ahead of us. Key flu indicators suggest that this year is shaping up to be a bad one, particularly for people 65 and older. That’s what we expect for a season where H3N2 is the predominant strain.”

Most of the H3N2 viruses circulating are “drifted” or different from the H3N2 vaccine virus; suggesting that the vaccine’s ability to protect against those viruses may be reduced.

generic influenza virion
3D influenza/CDC

CDC continues to recommend flu vaccination even when there are drifted viruses circulating because the vaccine can still prevent infection and also prevent serious flu-related complications in many people.

CDC also recommends flu antiviral drugs for treatment of influenza illness in people who are very sick with flu or people with the flu who are at high risk of serious flu complications. Influenza antiviral drugs are a second line of defense against the flu to treat flu illness. These prescription drugs work best when started soon after influenza symptoms begin (within 2 days), but persons with high-risk conditions can benefit even when antiviral treatment is started after the first two days of illness.

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