Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota this month is seeing record numbers of ill children — more than 450 cases, the most ever for this time of year — ranging from 4 weeks to 15 years old, with a fairly common 12 percent admission rate. Many of them have symptoms consistent with influenza, and of those admitted for a stay, 70 percent of the age-eligible kids have been unvaccinated against flu.
While the Internet, the once-nicknamed “information superhighway,” is full of helpful information, it also has its fair share of breakdowns and wrecks. Though it brings us a wealth of knowledge at our fingertips, misinformation also is abundant in today’s 24-hour news cycle. Depending on the topic, the practice can have serious consequences.
This year’s influenza vaccination was designed to protect against up to four strains of the flu (two A strains and two B strains). This month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that one of the strains of influenza, A H3N2, has drifted, changing itself from what was put in this year’s flu vaccine. It’s like the original plan for the vaccine and the circulating flu strain were to be like identical twins, but now the virus has changed its genetic makeup to present instead like brother and sister. This resulting strain in the vaccine is now about half as protective. However, there are two to three other strains in the vaccine that can help keep you and your family better protected from the flu.
Despite what some vaccination opponents have written and some media have reported, the drifted strain doesn’t mean the flu vaccine doesn’t work, even against A H3N2. It means that the vaccine may not be as effective against the mutated version of A H3N2, though it may lessen the severity of the symptoms from it. The vaccine still protects recipients against the two B strains and other A strain.
Early in each year, in order to manufacture as much flu vaccine as possible, the World Health Organization (WHO) makes its recommendations for which strains the flu vaccine should target. This year, according to IFL Science, WHO made its recommendations in February, and A H3N2 was included. The drifted strain was discovered in small numbers at the end of March.
Like with many diseases and illnesses, young children, expecting mothers and the elderly are most susceptible to influenza. Vaccination is important to protect yourself and others. Not everyone is healthy enough to receive the vaccine, which comes in the form of a shot or nasal mist, to protect themselves, so it’s up to everyone to work together to minimize the spread of the potentially fatal disease.
While the vaccine may not prevent someone from getting influenza A H3N2, it may keep a person from getting severe influenza requiring a critical-care stay. It’s not too late to vaccinate, and it’s vital to do so. Learn more about additional resources to protect you from the flu and how to get your vaccination.
Patsy Stinchfield, infectious disease nurse practitioner, is the Director of Infection Prevention & Control and the Children’s Immunization Project at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.