Medical experts in the United States are worried that this year's flu season could be a nasty one that may be lethal. That's because this year's main flu strain, the influenza A virus, known as H3N2, is worse than the swine flu in 2009. To put it in perspective, back when the swine flu was making headlines it infected just 51,000 people in Australia. This year's H3N2 sickened over 215,000 and the illness has hit our shores. It's a situation that has led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to do a collaborative study with global health partners in an effort to make addressing the situation a global priority.
Reported cases in some states, like Arizona, are up more than 758 percent over this time last year, and the CDC reports the flu is in widespread conditions in 46 states, including California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Virginia, as of Dec. 30, 2017. To make matters worse, the flu vaccine is not proving to be very effective against this year's main strain, because of a virus mutation. In Australia it has been effective in only 10 percent of cases, reports The New England Journal of Medicine. The vaccine now being administered to Americans uses the same formulation.
With news mounting of this season's flu being a particularly virulent one — evidenced by overcrowded emergency rooms and an uptick in related deaths across the country — it's eerily ironic that this year marks the 100th anniversary of the 1918 global influenza pandemic. Also known as the Spanish flu, the worldwide outbreak infected an estimated 500 million people, nearly a third of the planet's population then, and killed between 50 million and 100 million victims. More than 25 percent of the U.S. population was sickened, and about 675,000 Americans died.
While no public health officials are declaring the current flu to be a pandemic, this strain is historically more difficult to fight than others. Australia, for instance, just came through its flu season, reporting record-high numbers of cases of the same H3N2 virus and higher-than-average numbers of hospitalizations and deaths.
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The United States is experiencing a similarly "early and robust start to this flu season," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health. "It has all the markings of being a severe season."