Too early to forecast flu season; vaccinations urged

By Megan Bard

UMass Medical School Communications

December 12, 2014
 
  Robert Finberg, MD

With the season just beginning, infectious disease expert Robert Finberg, MD, said it’s too early to predict whether it will be a bad flu year, and urged families to get vaccinated.

Influenza viruses are constantly changing, said Dr. Finberg, the Richard M. Haidack Professor of Medicine and chairman and professor of medicine. Every year isolates are obtained from the southern hemisphere and manufacturers try to match them as closely as they can to create the vaccine.

“There is often ‘drift’ in one strain or another from what was seen in the southern hemisphere. However, the vaccine should still provide good protection against other strains that are contained in the vaccine and some protection even against the new strain,” Finberg said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released information Dec. 4 suggesting that the 2014-15 flu season could be severe, particularly because a strain of virus, Type A H3N2, associated with more severe flu illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths is the predominant strain found thus far through analysis. CDC officials added that what is more troublesome is that “roughly half of the H3N2 viruses analyzed are drift variants: viruses with antigenic or genetic changes that make them different from that season’s vaccine virus.”

The CDC has reported five pediatric deaths from the flu this year. Regional flu activity has been reported in Massachusetts.

“All adults should take this vaccine this year. It will prevent disease and save lives,” Finberg said.

Related links on UMassMedNow:
Expert’s Corner: Don’t worry about Ebola—but be very worried about flu
Flu season expected to hit area within weeks: Still time to get vaccinated before virus strikes
Newsmaker: Vaccine Refusal Tied to Pertussis Outbreak
Finberg: Antibacterial products no better against germs than basic soap
Pediatrician: Flu shot season has arrived
Finberg explains flu vaccine advance to Globe
UMMS expert seeks better flu vaccines: Finberg and team work on proactive approach to vaccine design
Newsmaker: Flu season outlook: under control

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