(WXYZ) — Influenza hospitalization rates continue to surge in the U.S. The dominant variant behind these numbers — H3N2 — is known to hit children and seniors much harder.
Influenza activity got off to an awfully early start. We don’t usually see flu rates rising until December or January. However, the CDC has estimated that 4.4 million people have fallen ill so far this season. Roughly 38,000 have been hospitalized, and 2,100 have died — seven of them were children.
Now, according to public health labs, H3N2 has been detected in 76% of tested respiratory samples. I find this unfortunate. Because experience tells us that when the H3N2 variant is the dominant strain, it’s usually a severe flu season. And it certainly looks like we’re heading that way.
Flu hospitalization rates haven't been this high so early in the season since the swine flu pandemic back in 2009. Right now, about eight people per 100,000 are being hospitalized. But those numbers are higher for two groups often hit hard by the H3N2 variant. The hospitalization rate for children under five years old is about 13 per 100,000. And for adults aged 65 and older, the rate is more than double the general population — at 18 per 100,000.
Getting vaccinated is really important for those two at-risk groups. You know, I often hear patients grumbling about getting another vaccine and how the flu shot isn’t all that protective. But it’s usually somewhere between 40% and 60% effective at preventing illness. So yes, you can still get sick, but do know that vaccinated people are less likely to be hospitalized or die. And that’s why it’s extremely important for those most at risk to get vaccinated against the flu. But everyone age 6 months and older are eligible for the flu vaccine.
As for tips for boosting the vaccine response, there are three. According to research, you can help boost immunity by getting vaccinated in the morning, not using over-the-counter medications like anti-fever drugs to ward off potential side effects before the shot, and by getting a good night’s sleep.
Having said all that, the most important thing is to get vaccinated whenever it works best for you. Don’t wait. Hospitals are already packed with people sick with RSV and COVID. And when you combine the H3N2 variant with busy hospitals and the upcoming holiday gatherings and festivities, we could be in for a very rough winter. This season could be longer and even more severe, which means more people will get sick, especially young children and older adults. Again, please get vaccinated.