Flu Season Hits Hard


Each year, medical scientists do their best to predict which strain of influenza virus will attack the population hardest then create a preemptive vaccine to combat it. Sometimes it’s the A strain that causes problems. The H1N1 virus can get out and cause an epidemic as it did with the 1918 Spanish flu and the 2009 swine flu. The H3N2 flu, which last year caused an epidemic, was also vaccine resistant. This year, it’s the B strain causing so much illness and this year’s vaccine isn’t as effective against it as doctors had hoped.

“There’s the Flu A strain that actually has been pretty well covered by the vaccine, and then there’s the Flu B strain, which is called B Victoria. That one is only about 58% covered by the current vaccine, so 42% of people who got the vaccine can still contract the flu,” said Dr. John Rodarte, general pediatrician with Descanso Pediatrics in La Cañada and former chairman of Pediatrics at Huntington Hospital. “But at least, even with that, they’re not getting the complications like secondary infections – pneumonia being the biggest thing. There’s still some advantage to getting a flu shot because you don’t get the severe part, the infections.”

The B Victoria strain is hitting children particularly hard. There have been 32 pediatric deaths reported due to complications with the flu virus, mostly from contracting pneumonia, since this season’s outbreak began. While it is a factor that the virus’ proclivity to affect children and young adults is worse than even adults 65 and older, how sick people get also has a lot to do with habits, hygiene and exposure.

“It does seem to be hitting kids a little bit harder this year than in past years,” Rodarte said. “Kids are always the most vulnerable and they’re the most susceptible because of their proximity to [sources of contracting the virus at school and while playing]. But it does seem to be a little more virulent towards children. [The reason] why is hard to say for sure.”

With the omnipresent danger of germs lurking on surfaces and being actively, though unintentionally, spread by other people directly, good health habits are more important than ever. The most important thing, Rodarte said, is to get the flu vaccine. It will help prevent contraction or, at the very least, help fight secondary infection, which is what is responsible for the extreme sickness and death seen across the country. Washing hands frequently and keeping children from putting their hands or toys in their mouths will go a long way to help prevent exposure too, as well as avoiding sick people if possible.

“If you’re around somebody who you know has the flu, then try to minimize contact and make sure you’re really washing everything. That person might [need to] wear a mask around you; that might be helpful. Just minimizing your exposure,” Rodarte said. “Unfortunately, there’s only so much you can do when it comes to daycare and school because you’re going to be around others. You might be contracting it and not even know it. But the best you can do is just making sure you’re treating your own body right: getting enough rest, eating healthy and trying to avoid areas and times when you’re around people who are sick, if possible. You know that’s the hard part about the holidays – everyone’s around family and that’s when things kind of run rampant, after exposures like that.”

For more information on the current strain of flu and how to stay healthy, visit CDC.gov/flu.