Following the announcement that this season’s flu vaccine was only 23 per cent effective in treating the H3N2 strain of influenza, Niagara health officials have warned residents to be very cautious when it comes to monitoring the flu, as the Niagara region has had over 17 cases of severe influenza within the last week.
Over the last two weeks, the Niagara Health System has been bogged down by multiple numbers of Urgent Care visits, as well as the admission of severely sick patients suffering from the flu across the region.
In addition to being a particularly rough strain of influenza, the H3N2 virus has been disproportionately affecting the elderly and already sick with many of the 17 major cases in the Niagara coming from long-term care units and retirement homes across the Niagara.
Due to this, doctors are advising not to visit family and friends who are being hospitalized with H3N2 to halt the spread of the flu, as well as prevent it from continuing to attack the elderly and sick.
Touching on this, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control is reporting a “sharp increase” in the number of influenza cases overall, particularly noting that it is continuing to spread across the country.
Dr. Danuta Skowronski, an Epidemiologist at the B.C. Centre of Disease Control, commented that the mutated H3N2 season, is a”particularly nasty” flu, and that this year’s flu vaccine does not offer full, reliable protection. “We’re having a huge number of long-term care facility outbreaks reported to us,” she said. “Yesterday (Jan 2), my team was struggling to keep up with the number of reports that were coming in.”
Skowronski also touched on those at the highest risk for H3N2, commenting in a press release that,”We need to reinforce the message for our high-risk patients that even if they were vaccinated this year, the vaccine protection is going to be reduced because of the mismatch,” she said, continuing that “they should be considering early anti-viral treatment whether they were vaccinated or not if they have high risk conditions.” As well as talking about those most likely to be affected Skowronski warned that the elderly especially will see a sharp mortality rate as a result of this.
“Virtually all of those are likely to be in the elderly, because the elderly for whatever reason, their immune systems do not respond well in recognizing H3N2 viruses so they tend to be especially susceptible.”
“The last H3N2 mismatch was in 2012, and that year we had the highest number of care facility outbreaks compared to any prior season…well already for the same time this year, we have double the number we had in 2012, so this is shaping up consistent with a substantially mismatched H3N2 year.” Skowronski also urged people to action, saying that the most important thing to do was to be vigilant and educated when it comes to dealing with H3N2.
“It’s important to start those anti-viral drugs early, and by early I mean within 12 hours of illness onset. People should be considering how they might get a prescription if they develop influenza-like illness within the coming weeks, because influenza, and a particularly nasty influenza, is definitely dominating now.”
As Niagara prepares for H3N2, hopefully we can continue to stay vigilant and prepare accordingly for the virus that vaccines forgot.