WASHINGTON – The flu season is on track to be nearly one of the worst in a decade, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“We are in for what looks like it’s going to be one of the worst flu seasons in nine or 10 years,” Fauci told WTOP Wednesday morning.
The last time the nation saw flu rates this high was the 2003-2004 season, he says.
“That uptick that started early — which was right at the very beginning of December, end of November, and is continuing to go way up — has led now to widespread flu activity through virtually, essentially the entire country with few exceptions,” Fauci says.
Flu season typically peaks between mid-January and February. Washington-area hospitals have already been inundated with flu patients, so much so that they’ve had to increase their emergency room staffs.
While Fauci characterizes this season’s H3N2 flu strain as one that is “more severe” than other strains, he says there is some good news.
“The good news about the flu vaccine and the flu season this year is really this is a very, very good match. The effectiveness of the vaccine in protecting you relates very much to whether what is in the vaccine matches well to what is circulating throughout society,” he says.
“The H3N2 is very well matched to the vaccine,” he says.
Fauci says the nation has roughly 135 million doses of the flu vaccine, the highest ever.
Protection against the flu varies not only by the strains contained in the vaccine, but also by a person’s age.
“Older people have less of a protection. It’s still reasonably good. Young, healthy people have very good protection, if the match is good itself,” Fauci says.
Anyone who hasn’t gotten a flu shot yet is encouraged to do so.
With the flu, one of the things people may not realize is that it can be spread even before a person gets symptoms.
“About a day before you get symptoms you can actually start spreading it inadvertently,” Fauci says.
“The bottom line is you really can’t predict because the one thing about flu is it is unpredictable.”