This year’s flu strain is ‘a nastier virus than ever’

(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the number of people going to the doctor with flu-like symptoms is the highest it’s been in nearly a decade.

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, says a particularly nasty strain of influenza, H3N2, is “a nastier virus than ever.”

That’s especially the case for older Americans.

“It tends to make more people sick, particularly older persons,” said Dr. Schaffner. “They’re more likely to get pneumonia and need to be hospitalized.”

Dr. William Schaffner (Photo: WKRN)

Schaffner says there are now two influenza vaccines designed for patients age 65 and older.

“Both have been shown, in older persons, to be more effective than the standard vaccine. So we’re making improvements in the influenza vaccine in a step-by-step fashion.”

Some flu patients are at a higher risk of complications from the virus. Kids, pregnant women, older people, or those with underlying illnesses like asthma, diabetes and heart disease should consult a doctor if they exhibit flu-like symptoms.

But when is it time to skip the clinic and go straight to the emergency room?

“If you’re really sick and you’re getting sicker, if you’re having any difficulty breathing, if your dry cough suddenly turns productive and you’re bringing up green or grey sputum, or goodness, if there’s even any streaked blood, absolutely seek medical care right away,” said Dr. Schaffner.

While this year’s flu vaccine has not been as effective against some strains, Dr. Schaffner insists you should still get the vaccine.

“Even if you get the flu, despite the vaccine, you’re likely to get partial protection,” Dr. Schaffner said. “You’re less likely to get the complications of pneumonia, having to be hospitalized, and dying.”