Flu continues to be prevalent even in springtime, Rutgers expert says
Spring is in the air, and so is the flu. Dr. David Cennimo, an infectious disease expert at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School (NJMS) discussed the prevalence of the flu even in the springtime, emphasizing that it is still important to get vaccinated.
Some may think that flu season coincides with the beginning and end of winter, since the majority of people get sick with the flu during that time frame, but this is actually not true, Cennimo said.
“The flu actually circulates in the U.S. throughout the year. Most years, it starts in earnest in October and peaks in late winter (February), though appreciable numbers of cases can be seen into May in some years. In New Jersey, we usually see the flu in late December through the end of February,” he said.
Though it is April, the flu has not weakened and continues to be elevated in New Jersey.
“Currently, we are still seeing high flu activity in New Jersey which is later than many other past years,” Cennimo said. "The epidemiology is still being studied in real time, but it looks like we are experiencing a second wave of influenza infections.”
There are four different types of influenza viruses, but the two that are the most severe are influenza A and B, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website. These two strains of flu cause seasonal epidemics almost every winter.
“The emergence of a new and very different influenza A virus to infect people can cause an influenza pandemic,” according to the website.
There are two strains of influenza A viruses that can be found in humans — H1N1 and H3N2 — and two lineages of influenza B viruses. Cennimo said the difference in these strains are due to slight differences in specific proteins found in the virus.
Cennimo said the threat of the H3N2 virus in particular can be dangerous, as last year was the first that recorded high severity of the strain across all age groups.
“The H3N2 virus predominated and might have been more virulent ... the vaccine formulation was also estimated to be 25 percent effective against H3N2, which may have contributed,” he said. “Flu deaths in adults are not codified in reporting, but the estimates are higher than past years. Over 700,000 patients were hospitalized.”
With that being said, Cennimo recommended vaccinations for flu prevention.
“Prevention is key. Vaccinations are one widely used and needed strategy. Everyone should get a vaccine,” he said.
Other means of prevention can include small measures, such as staying home when sick to avoid infecting others, practicing hand hygiene and using respiratory etiquette.
“It really is that simple, and will also protect from other respiratory viruses,” he said.
The CDC recommended that in the case that one does contract the flu, one starts taking flu antiviral drugs within two days of getting sick.
“Vaccines usually take around two weeks to show full protection. That written, the season is still going strong, so I think they would still be effective and useful,” Cennimo said.
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