February 14, 2019
With health officials predicting the worst of this year’s flu activity is ahead, you may want to consider getting a flu shot if you haven't already, especially since this year's vaccine is reportedly more effective than last year's formulation.
According to a report released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the effectiveness of this year's vaccine is estimated at 47 percent, significantly higher than the 36 percent rate recorded during the 2017-2018 flu season, which claimed the lives of more than 250 people in Pennsylvania alone.
The difference is partly because the dominant influenza virus last year, H3N2, was known to cause more serious illnesses and to be less responsive to vaccination than other strains. This year, H1N1 — which is more easily targeted by the flu shot — has been the dominant virus, leading to less-severe and fewer illnesses overall, according to TIME.
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The CDC estimates that the flu shot this season reduced the risk of H1N1 infection by about 47 percent among adults, and about 62 percent among children ages six months to 17 years old.
Studies show that vaccination reduces the risk of influenza-related deaths in children. In fact, 80 percent of the children in the United States who died from flu last season were unvaccinated. Additionally, the shot "prevents a substantial number of influenza-related illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths annually," noted the authors of the new CDC report.
Despite this more effective vaccine and less-severe flu season, the death toll is rising for the illness. The CDC estimates that the flu has infected up to 15.2 million Americans so far this season, causing as many as 7.2 million medical visits, 186,000 hospitalizations and 15,900 deaths, including 28 confirmed pediatric deaths, TIME reports.
In October, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a new antiviral, baloxavir marboxil, or Xofluza, a single-dose oral prescription drug, which is intended for patients 12 or older who have had symptoms for no more than 48 hours. This antiviral is the first flu treatment approved by the FDA in nearly 20 years, CNN reports. When patients with the flu are treated within 48 hours of becoming sick, antiviral drugs can reduce symptoms and duration of illness, according to the FDA.
Tamiflu, another antiviral medication, is also prescribed for many people, CNN adds.
The CDC is still recommending that people who aren’t vaccinated against the flu get a flu shot, since it can help prevent the contraction and transmission of illness and lessen the severity of any symptoms that do occur.
As a reminder, the CDC recommends flu shots for nearly every American older than six months of age, with few exceptions. Additionally, you can keep tabs on all flu-related news and updates via the CDC’s weekly updates here.