The current flu season is showing early signs of being more brutal than average.
Not only has the season started earlier than usual, but when compared to Australia’s current flu season (which usually aligns similarly with America’s) the number of cases identified is 2.5 times more than this what was recorded at time last year.
Experts are also arguing that the flu vaccines used in previous years are not as effective as before.
Flu vaccines involve growing the influenza virus in millions of chicken eggs, over a period of about four months.
This means the flu-shot manufacturers need a head start; and every year in the spring, influenza experts at the World Health Organization (WHO) make their best educated guess about which strains of the virus will make the rounds in the coming winter.
They do get it right sometimes, but when they don’t, they discover entirely different strains circulating that make people sick.
This virus also mutates quickly, making the vaccines already distributed seem ineffective.
What you are protected against may not necessarily be what people are spreading with this new mutated virus.
This year, however, the viruses in the vaccine are closely related the virus that people are encountering from other sick people.
It would seem like the flu vaccinations would be effective against this current virus spreading around, but they unfortunately are not.
Because public-health officials guess which versions of the flu will cause diseases, they include several strains in the shot.
This year’s shot includes H1N1, H3N2 and Influenza B.
These flu viruses are not easy to grow in chicken eggs, so researchers make minor changes to the virus.
Brendan Flannery, an epidemiologist in the influenza division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), says those changes might be making the H3N2 strain in particular less potent–which would limit the immune response it triggers in the body.
Since that immune response is critical to how efficient the vaccines are, this could lead to people remaining susceptible to that strain of flu going around–even if they got their flu shot.
When researchers compared the H3N2 strain from infected people with the original H3N2 reference strain designated by the WHO, they did not find many differences.
But when they compared the virus in infected people to the vaccine virus that was grown in eggs, they saw changes.
Flannery added, “There is evidence that growing the vaccine virus in eggs resulted in changes that altered the vaccine’s effectiveness…The take-home message is that vaccine production, growing the virus in eggs, can cause some of the problems we are seeing.”
A relatively new form of vaccination, a nasal spray that was introduced in 2003, is no longer recommended by the CDC, as it offers less protection than a standard flu shot against the H1N1 strain.
Scientists are still trying to find better ways of protecting ourselves against the flu, but until that day comes the science is clear; some protection is better than none.
The CDC recommended the use of a non-alcoholic hand sanitizer and washing your hands frequently to avoid as many unnecessary viruses this flu season as possible.
(Original Article: http://time.com/5068553/this-years-flu-virus-could-be-worse-than-usual/)