Looking Back on the Flu Epidemic of 2018

March 15, 2018

Dr. Sheila Nolan MD is interviewed by Fox 5 about this year’s flu epidemic and the future of flu shots.

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Newsreporter #1: The deadly flu outbreak finally showing signs of leveling off. The CDC says one out of every thirteen hospital visits last week were because of the flu. That's high, but no worse than last week after increasing for twelve straight weeks prior. The numbers of states reporting heavy flu patient traffic also held steady at forty-three [percent]; health officials are still urging though people to get vaccinated despite the fact that this year's shot is only about twenty-five percent effective. Well, because this year's flu season has been so rough, many are wondering why the flu vaccine isn't doing a better job of keeping people safe.

Newsreporter #2: Jessica Formoso explains why it is so difficult to make the perfect flu shot. 

Newsreporter #3: This year's flu season is turning out to be one of the deadliest. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says over four thousand deaths are being recorded weekly, and more than sixty children have died from the flu so far. 

Anna Schuchat, Acting Director, CDC: In severe seasons in the past, over 700,000 people have been hospitalized, and 56,000 people died from influenza. We may be on track to reach or even exceed those records. 

Dr. Sheila Nolan: We don't know every year why some years are worse than others. We are seeing some effectiveness with the vaccine.

Newsreporter #3: A vaccine, Doctor Sheila Nolan, Chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, says is somewhere around 40-60% effective in preventing the flu. 

Dr. Sheila Nolan: Every year it's a bit of a guessing game based on what are the current circulating strains and what we predict.

Newsreporter #3: The CDC says flu viruses are constantly changing. They can change from one season to the next, or they can even change within the course of one flu season. Experts must pick which viruses to include in the vaccine, which is made a year in advance. So how do they know which strains to pick? Well, they use data from the Southern Hemisphere because their flu season starts before ours. 

Dr. Sheila Nolan: We have to pick these strains early and we do our best. Sometimes it's a match but because of the way these viruses are, they're able to mutate. And so sometimes there's something we call "drift" and sometimes there can be a more significant change which is what we call "antigenic shift," and that's when we saw the pandemic flu of 2009. That was a true shift where nobody had any immunity to that virus.

Newsreporter #3: Influenza A (H3N2) is the prominent circulating strain right now. However, there are multiple strains of the flu virus. 

Dr. Sheila Nolan: We see that there is some variability in the virus but on the whole, it matches fairly well to the vaccine, so there should be protection. But the flu vaccine isn't perfect. 

Newsreporter #3: Doctor Nolan says there's a lot of research going on to reduce a more universal vaccine that doesn't need to be modified or manipulated every year. In the newsroom, I'm Jessica Formoso, Fox5 News.