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Doctors urge Americans to get flu shots amid fears of deadly flu



Doctors urge Americans to get flu immediately after a bad flu season in Australia has raised concerns about the coming season in the US

Public health experts often pay attention to the Southern Hemisphere flu models for explanations of what to come. This year, Australia had an earlier than usual peak in flu cases and had a difficult season overall. The predominant influenza strain in Australia, as in recent years in the US, was the H3N2 virus, which generally causes more serious illnesses, especially among the elderly, and more hospitalizations and deaths.

"It makes you believe that this H3N2 virus is definitely on the move and changing, which is never a good situation," says the pediatrician

Randy Bergen,

clinical lead for the Kaiser Permanente flu vaccine program in Northern California. "It makes me a little more nervous than generally looking ahead to the flu season."

He says that so far weekly surveillance data still shows a relatively small number of flu cases, but there are already several flu-related deaths cases in California, which is a problem.

The Australian flu season does not always predict the US flu. Australia had a mild flu season last year with the circulation of several different flu viruses, while the US had a very long season with the advent of a new H3N2 variant, he says

Dan Jernigan,

head of the flu department at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The World Health Organization added that the new H3N2 variant in the vaccine currently used in the US Creating a flu vaccine is an inaccurate science because it is difficult to know exactly which strains will circulate next season and the virus can mutate quickly .

But experts say that even if the flu vaccine doesn't exactly match the circulating strains, it's still much better to make the flu than to skip it. It protects the various strains that often circulate together and there is evidence that the vaccine reduces the duration and severity of the disease, even if you do eventually become ill.

Most importantly, even an imperfect vaccine helps prevent the spread of other people, including babies 6 months old, who cannot get the flu under. The most common side effects from a stroke are soreness and tenderness or swelling at the injection site, although muscle aches, headaches and low-grade fever can occur. More serious side effects are very rare.

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"For many people, even if it is not perfect, they will probably provide some protection or change the course of the disease if they become infected," he says

Stephen Morse,

Professor of Epidemiology at the School of Public Health at the University of Columbia.

The CDC recommends that anyone over 6 months be vaccinated by the end of this month. It takes about two weeks to be protected from the vaccine and protection usually lasts up to one year in healthy adults, although it can wear out faster for the elderly.

Only about 45% of adults and about 63% of children are vaccinated for the 201

8-19 flu season. The CDC estimates that between 36,000 and 61,000 people in the United States have died from the flu.

Two recent studies presented earlier this month at IDWeek, an annual meeting of infectious disease specialists, found that receiving the flu vaccine reduced the severity of the disease in adults by more than one-third and halved the hospitalizations of children.

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In one study, CDC researchers analyzed data from more than 40,000 patients hospitalized with influenza over five flu seasons. They found that patients between the ages of 18 and 64 who came down with the H1N1 flu strain, although vaccinated, had a 36% lower risk of death, 34% lower risk of mechanical ventilation, and 19% lower risk of ICU administration from patients who have not received the vaccine.

Patients aged 65 and older who tested positive for the H1N1 flu strain despite vaccination had a nearly one-third less chance of receiving a stroke than those who did not receive the flu vaccine. There was no statistically significant difference in outcome for patients with H3N2 or B. strains.

"Although people who get vaccinated can still get sick, there are many benefits to vaccination," he says

Shih Garg,

CDC epidemiologist and lead researcher.

In a separate study, CDC researchers analyzed the hospitalizations of 3,630 children hospitalized for respiratory illness during two seasons of influenza.

Those who have been vaccinated are half as likely to be hospitalized than those who have not been, says

Angela Campbell,

CDC medical officer and lead author of the study. The protection was highest for the H1N1 virus version, with children who were vaccinated with the flu vaccine were 76% less likely to be hospitalized than those who had not received the vaccine. Those who tested positive for a different strain, influenza B virus and had the flu vaccine, were 59% less likely to be hospitalized, while those who had the H3N2 virus were 33% less probable.

Write to Sumathi Reddy at sumathi.reddy@wsj.com

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