Why Was This Year’s Flu So Severe?

Flu season may finally be on its way out, but this year it left in its wake thousands sick, hospitalized, and several dead. In fact, this year’s flu reached above-epidemic proportions in the numbers who got the virus and in its severity. But why is still largely anyone’s guess.

This Year’s Flu Vaccine

Every year, researchers have the unenviable task of predicting which strains of the influenza virus will be most prevalent so that the vaccines can be formulated to include them. In years past, flu outbreaks have often been the result of a poor match between flu strains in the vaccine and flu strains actually infecting people. For the 2016-2017 flu season, though, researchers accurately predicted a high incidence of the H3N2 strain, so the vaccine is likely to show a higher than normal efficacy rate compared to years past.

Possible Causes for a Flu Epidemic

So if the flu vaccine was largely effective this year, why the epidemic? There are a number of possible reasons, including:

  • Only about 50% of adults get the flu vaccine
  • The H3N2 strain is a particularly virulent strain, making people sicker

Beyond these relatively obvious factors, one can only guess why this year’s flu hit so hard. Since the H1N1 flu scare of the early 2000s, people may be relaxing on personal hygiene (i.e. washing hands), spreading more germs. People may have suffered from milder viral or bacterial infections, leaving them more susceptible to the H3N2 flu strain. Without more research, there are just no definitive answers.

What Should You Do if You Get the Flu?

Although popular media talks about “flu season,” strains of the flu virus are present year-round. So even though we’re heading into summer, be vigilant about personal hygiene and your wellness. People with compromised immune systems need to be especially proactive about seeking medical care if you suspect a flu infection. If you experience flulike symptoms, such as:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Muscle aches
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea

You should seek attention from your primary care physician or urgent care as soon as possible.