All across the world, the 2018 flu season is being touted to be one of the worst ever seen. In fact, in the United States alone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the first time in 13 years of monitoring the spread of flu across the country, has announced that every part of the United States is showing widespread flu activity. In total, 46 states are showing signs of widespread flu outbreak.
Oseltamivir, which is commonly known as Tamiflu, is one of the most commonly used medications for the treatment of flu symptoms. Tamiflu is known to provide relief against symptoms such as a cough, stuffy nose, fever or chills, body ache, sore throat, and tiredness that usually accompanies the flu. It is also known the make the flu less severe, as well as shortens the recovery period by a day or two. Doctors believe that Tamiflu can also be used for preventing the flu in an event where you are exposed to someone already having the flu or in case of a flu outbreak, such as the one that is going on this year. So why is this year’s flu season causing so many deaths?
2018 Flu Season
Everyone knows that it is better to get your flu shots every year so that you can possibly avoid getting the flu, or at least it will lower the severity of the symptoms. While antiviral medications also help to relieve symptoms, but doctors and researchers are aiming towards developing vaccines that can prevent people from coming down with the flu in the first place.
Experts unanimously agree that 2018’s flu season is likely to become one of the worst in history. In the United States, the CDC has released data that confirms that 46 states are going through a widespread outbreak of the flu. Texas and Arizona are particularly bearing the brunt of it and doctors are encouraging everyone to get the flu vaccine in order to remain safe.
Why then, when the flu season comes around every year, is this year’s outbreak being termed as the worst in history?
This is because the strain of the influenza virus responsible for this outbreak is one of a severe kind. Known as the H3N2 strain, it is a dominant strain and is a particularly bad version of the influenza virus. The worst part is that the H3N2 strain remains relatively resistant to the current flu vaccines and medications. The viral strain is even more harmful to the elderly and young children.
The Threat of H3N2
The H3N2 strain of the influenza virus was first detected in 2011 and since then it has played a part in every flu season, though not to such a huge extent as is prevalent this year. Many experts had already predicted that H3N2 is likely to affect the Northern Hemisphere hard during this flu season.
Earlier, in the flu season in Australia, the virus played a big role and caused havoc. In fact, statistics show that the flu vaccine that was used to treat people in the Southern Hemisphere during the flu season only had a ten percent efficiency rate during the season.
The fact is that flu viruses mutate every year and we get to witness several strains of the virus during the same flu season. For example, the H1N1 strain was responsible for causing the 1918 flu pandemic. It also caused the 2009 swine flu outbreak. Similarly, H3N2 is historically known to be a particularly ‘nasty’ strain and is generally associated with various complications as well. Pneumonia, needing to be hospitalized and fatalities are some of the common complications of H3N2.
The virus is also having a much more severe impact on the elderly as they are most likely to get all the above-mentioned complications associated with H3N2.
Furthermore, because people have been less exposed to this strain, H3N2 has been particularly pervasive during this season. What generally happens is that when the same strain of flu strikes, again and again, people and communities build up their immunity against it, thus the complications also go down.
While the flu vaccine of this year continues to target H3N2, they are in fact not optimal against this strain of the virus, especially in the elderly. Therefore, all these factors have come together this year to make it a severe flu season.
H3N2 is known as an A strain of the influenza virus, meaning that is a strain that is known to collectively cause severe outbreaks of the flu. B strains of the virus, on the other hand, are not known to cause epidemics, though they do cause the full cycle of influenza.
Since H3N2 is a relative strain affecting the population, it is more likely to cause a flu epidemic. While all of us have some form of immunity to the influenza virus, if a new strain comes up, then this previous immunity will not serve us any protection.
As experts deal with this year’s severe flu season, they are already working on trying to improve the flu vaccine. As of now, the flu vaccines usually adapt to the dominant strain going around for that season, but due to the new strain of the virus, this year’s vaccines are only said to be ten percent effective against H3N2.
How Effective is Tamiflu against The Flu?
Commonly known as Tamiflu, the generic name of the drug is actually Oseltamivir. This medication is commonly used for the treatment of flu symptoms such as a sore throat, cough, cold, stuffy nose, fever, and chills, weakness and fatigue, etc. It is known to make these symptoms less severe and also speed up the recovery time by one or two days. Tamiflu is known the world over as a great medication for preventing the flu as well, especially if you have been exposed to someone having the flu or during a flu outbreak, such as the one ongoing this year. Tamiflu is known to work by preventing the flu virus from growing further. It should be noted that Tamiflu is not recommended as a substitute for the annual flu vaccine though.
Tamiflu is best described as an antiviral used for treating flu symptoms. In people who are above the age of one, Tamiflu is known to also lower the chances of getting the flu. However, Tamiflu does not stop or work on the bacterial infections that often accompany the flu.
It is being observed that for people being diagnosed with the flu, doctors are prescribing antivirals, such as Tamiflu.
Antivirals fight the flu virus directly, but as stated above, they do not fight bacterial infections. These antivirals can be given in tablet form, liquid form, or even as intravenous injections. Antivirals are not a cure for the flu, but they only serve to make the symptoms less severe. However, because this year’s flu is resulting in so many complications, patients are not getting much relief from using Tamiflu as well. The results of Tamiflu this year is also being hampered as the strain H3N2 is relatively new.
Vaccination is Still Very Important
All this news about the flu vaccine not being completely effective against this year’s flu strain should not discourage you from getting the flu shot though. In fact, being vaccinated against the flu is now even more important than before. It’s never too late to get vaccinated and you can always get it done in the middle of the flu season as well. While data may show that the flu vaccine is not too effective against the H3N2 strain, it is still the best bet there is. It is still the best flu vaccine there is.
So, even if the present vaccine does not offer complete protection, it will still make the severity of the flu go down. So you will be less likely to suffer from the complications of H3N2 such as pneumonia, hospitalization, etc.
Also, keep in mind that not all the strains of the flu virus going around will be H3N2. There may very well be some of the older strains also in the air and the vaccine will be your best bet to be protected against those strains. In fact, there are reports that there is a strain B of the influenza virus also going around.
You will also not be passing on the virus to your family and loved ones if you get vaccinated.
So if you feel like you are coming down with the flu, consult a doctor within 48 hours of developing flu symptoms such as a runny nose, fever, chills, sore throat, cough, body ache, fatigue, and headache. Your doctor will be the best source to recommend whether or not you can take antivirals such as Tamiflu to shorten the course of the flu and to also reduce the severity of your symptoms.
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