Last week, the Rhode Island Department of Health (DOH) announced an unexpected spike in cases of the H3 influenza strain in the state, but this year’s flu vaccine does protect against the strain and is still available throughout the state.
Dr. David Lowe, Kent Hospital’s infectious disease specialist said DOH releases weekly reports of the isolated cases of influenza. Within the last week, Lowe said the report featured a number of H3 cases, where as before all of the isolated cases were identified as H1.
“We’ve seen a peak in this new strain,” said Lowe.
According to Lowe, H1 typically affects a younger population, but the H3 strain affects an older population. Because of that, H3 is considered a more severe illness, and it may be more difficult for the elderly to fight off.
According to DOH’s release, 295 people have been hospitalized due to influenza this season and two flu-related deaths. In their release, DOH states that numbers may rise now that H3 is circulating.
“Because it is a new strain, the population might not be as immune [if they did not get this year’s vaccine],” said Lowe.
Lowe added particular attention should be paid to older people living in assisted living or nursing home facilities.
According to Lowe, this year’s most prevalent strain was predicted to be the H1 strain, which is usually more prevalent in young people or children. But this year’s vaccine was also made to protect against the H3 strain, so those who got their flu shot are all set.
“Those people who have had a flu vaccine are protected from H3 as well as H1,” said Lowe.
Most people assume that spring marks the end of “flu season,” but Lowe says it really depends on how the influenza virus travels. One of the most widespread flu outbreaks in history, the Influenza of 1918 (a.k.a. Spanish Flu), actually occurred toward the end of the summer.
But that was a rare circumstance.
“Most of the time if you make it through spring, you’re OK,” said Lowe.
Also, if one has not gotten a flu vaccine yet this season, it’s not too late. According to Lowe, flu vaccines are still good through the spring because the vaccines last up to nine months.
“It will take you through the spring months; I wouldn’t delay,” said Lowe.
Over the summer, next year’s vaccine is created and made available in the fall.
DOH reminds Rhode Islanders that adults can receive their flu shot from a doctor’s office or pharmacy, while children can only receive the vaccine from a doctor’s office.