This year’s flu strain is particularly dangerous for older adults

The flu season is beginning to gain traction with a predominant strain that concerns one infectious disease expert, and he’s urging everyone 6 months and older to get a flu shot.

“We’re starting to see the first cases,” said Dr. Bill Petri, professor of infectious diseases at the University of Virginia. “And it’s the more dangerous of the three strains that’s here. It’s what’s called influenza A (H3N2), which is associated with worse diseases, especially in the elderly.”

In the past, influenza A (H3N2) virus-predominant seasons were associated with more hospitalizations and deaths in people 65 and older compared with other age groups and other influenza viruses, according to a recent advisory from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that warned about increased A (H3N2) activity.

The advisory states most cases now are occurring among young adults and in college and university settings, where there’s potential also for co-circulation with COVID-19.

Dr. Bill Petri urges people to keep their guards up at least until spring. (Courtesy University of Virginia/Sanjay Suchak)

The flu was nearly nonexistent in the first year of the pandemic, probably due to mask wearing and social distancing.

Now, more than 2% of office visits are due to influenza-like illness, which, according to Petri, suggests the seasonal flu epidemic is close.

“It does appear that we are on track for the usual year of influenza, which is not good news,” he said. “Your risk of dying — if you’re over 65 years of age from influenza — is substantial. It’s a real reason to get everybody vaccinated.”

Vaccinating a 6-month-old child, he said, protects not only that child but also older relatives from the flu.

“It’s very tragic, but every year we have several hundred children who die of influenza,” Petri said. “Any vaccine-preventable disease — that’s a real tragedy if someone dies from something that could be prevented.”

It’s not too late to get vaccinated and be protected when the flu epidemic is going to be at its peak, which will be early next year.

Both Petri and the CDC advisory caution people to keep taking protective health measures to help keep both the flu and coronavirus in check.

“I think that if people can keep their guard up, I think we’re probably talking until the springtime. That seems like a long time, but another three months out of the almost 24 months that we’ve been so careful with masking and social distancing would pay benefits,” Petri said.

“Because another three to four months of being careful will get us through the worst of flu season, as well as probably the worst of delta and/or omicron [the newest coronavirus variant] in the U.S.”

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up