Doctors warn deadly flu strain has arrived in Middle Tennessee

This 2011 image provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows an H3N2 influenza virus _ the same type of flu that’s responsible for most flu illnesses this winter. A new study shows that this year's flu vaccine is only 23 percent effective, mainly because it isn’t well matched to the H3N2 strain that’s spread across the country. (AP Photo/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Michael Shaw, Doug Jordan)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The same deadly flu strain that hit Australia is here in Middle Tennessee, and doctors say it’s especially a concern for older people.

Infectious disease Dr. William Schaffner at Vanderbilt University Medical Center says the H3N2 strain came early, and they are already seeing people hospitalized.

“At the moment, flu has started, and it’s the dominant virus across the country this year,” he told News 2.

Dr. William Schaffner (Photo: WKRN)

Dr. Schaffner says those age 65 or older are especially susceptible.

“We anticipate a rather heavy flu season that will probably disproportionately affect older persons. That’s what this strain does,” he added.

The strain is H3N2 that hit Australia.

“It looks as though that virus has migrated north. It’s actually similar to the virus that plagued us last year,” explained Schaffner, and he says it can be deadly.

“(It) evokes the complications of pneumonia, hospitalization, and–I’m afraid to say–dying, so if you need another reason to be vaccinated, you’ve got it,” he explained.

(Courtesy: Centers for Disease Control)

While the flu can be especially dangerous for the elderly, he says everyone needs to get the vaccine.

“The recommendations are that all of us who are older than 6 months of age, that’s everybody watching, should be vaccinated,” Dr. Shaffner said.

And it’s not only for your own health, but also for the safety of others.

“Nobody wants to be the dreaded spreader, so we should all get vaccinated to protect ourselves and to make our surroundings as flu free as possible,” he said.

Dr. Shaffner says this year’s vaccine is good, but it’s never perfect. Regardless, he says if you haven’t been vaccinated run don’t walk to your doctor or pharmacy.

“It works more effectively in younger people than in older people, but none the less even if it’s only partially effective it’s important because even if you get the flu despite getting the vaccine your illness is much more likely to be milder, you are less likely to get the complications,” the doctor added.