The flu caused by the H3N2 virus is wreaking havoc this year, according to experts, could get to be the worst outbreaks of influenza in recent times.
Countries that are currently experiencing their cold weather season, such as France or the United Kingdom, experienced a drastic increase in cases of infection in recent weeks, after Australia recorded record numbers of hospitalisations and deaths from seasonal flu in its winter.
In the United States, the number of people who went to hospitals to seek medical attention for the disease this season is already the highest since the 2009 swine flu epidemic.
As indicated by federal health authorities, influenza caused by the H3N2 virus (also known as the “Australian flu”) has already killed more children than usual at this time of year.
According to the authorities, 37 children died and almost 12,000 patients were hospitalised in hospitals across the country.
At this rate of infection, around 34 million people will have contracted the disease when the season ends,assured the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“This is the highest level of activity that has been recorded since the 2009 pandemic,” CDC director Daniel Jernigan said Friday.
With the exception of Hawaii, the other 49 states are reporting “extensive” influence activity, he said.
A 12-year-old boy from Florida, Dylan Winnick, died Tuesday from the virus.
According to his relatives, who described him as a healthy child, Dylan died a day after showing symptoms of fever.
Why the disease has been so virulent this year
The H3N2 virus that has hit the nation this year is the deadliest of so-called “seasonal strains.”
This strain usually causes the worst outbreaks of the two types of influenza viruses circulating in humans that cause seasonal epidemics: A and B.
The seasons in which the H3N2 strain dominates are associated with more hospitalizations, more deaths and more diseases.
The children who are usually affected the most are young children, the elderly and people with certain chronic diseases.
As Dr. Jenigan explained: ” Among the viruses we hate, the one we hate the most is H3N2 .”
This strain, which has been circulating for about 50 years and which is also known as “the Australian influenza”, is capable of mutating very fast to be able to outwit the immune system.
H3N2 also caused havoc during the 1997-98 and 2003-04 seasons, and was baptized in 1968 as the “Hong Kong influenza”.
Another characteristic that has differentiated this strain is that this year has affected more people between 50 and 64 years .
“This represents a change from what we’ve seen in the past,” says the CDC expert. “In the past, young children had been the most affected group.”
“But now those between 50 and 64 show higher rates of hospitalizations than their grandchildren,” he adds.
The 2009 swine flu epidemic was widespread because it was a new virus.
How to protect yourself
Among the recommendations of the experts to protect themselves from the disease are the following:
Vaccinate against the flu. Although this year’s vaccine has not been perfect, it is still the best way to protect against infection. The flu season in the United States will not end until May, and until then the risk of contagion will continue.
Seek medical assistance People who develop flu symptoms should see their doctor immediately. Antiviral medications can reduce symptoms but are more effective if taken within 48 hours of the illness.
Do not spread the contagion . If you get sick with the flu, take steps to avoid spreading the infection. Patients should cover their mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. You should wash your hands often and avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with dirty hands. And you have to stay at home for at least a week to avoid spreading the infection.
Symptoms may appear suddenly and may include:
- Fever (temperature above 38º C)
- Muscle pain
- Sore throat
- Diarrhea and nausea