by Katrina Hapner, contributing writer for Telegraph Local
Flu cases have been ramping up since the start of November and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it seems that the 2019-2020 flu season is going to be a rough one. Normally, flu season in this country starts in the fall, with the high point between December and March. Some years, it can even extend into May. Statistics show that for the last 36 years, the flu has started in December/January, with a high point in February. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest report, there is more than a 40 percent chance that high point will be in December, based on what we have seen so far.
Unfortunately, an early start to flu season is not the most unique feature of this year’s flu season. The influenza strain B is showing to be the dominant virus this year, which is not exactly bad or good, but definitely unusual. There are three types of influenza virus that infect humans, A, B, and C. Normally, we see strain A as the dominant virus, and it is probably the one most people have heard about. The type A virus is usually identified by labels such as Hs and Ns, for example H1N1 and H3N2. Type A viruses have a tendency to mutate and can also infect other mammals and birds, making this strain possibly deadly and why different flu shots are needed every year.
Type B viruses only infect humans, and interestingly enough, seals. With less diversified hosts, this virus has less chances to mutate, rearranging themselves and causing mischief. These B viruses have never been linked to a pandemic, since their discovery in the 1940s. Typically, B viruses only make up about a third of all flu cases and have been considered to be a very mild strain. However, more recent studies have shown that B viruses show up more in children and have in the past caused the highest flu-related deaths.
The latest data coming out of this flu season so far, has shown that 60-70 percent of patients analyzed have been infected with B virus strain. Experts agree that it is unclear why strain B appears to be dominant to this point, and no one knows what this could mean for the rest of the flu season. Since cases of B viruses have been very low in the recent years, and mostly not seen at all in the 2018-2019 flu season, an argument could be made that immunity to this strain is very low in the general population.
The good news is that the majority of these B virus strains were covered in this year’s flu vaccine, along with different strains of A. According to the CDC, what is important to remember is getting vaccinated is critical. Doing this could protect you against the flu and also prevent the spread of the virus, potentially saving lives. In the first two months of this year’s flu season, there have already been six confirmed deaths of children with estimates of at least 1.7 million flu cases throughout the country. This has led to at least 16,000 in the hospital and a total of 910 deaths, according to CDC statistics.