Severe Flu Strain Hits US; Death Toll Rises

A second wave of the flu is making rounds through the United States, and this strain has already taken tens of thousands of lives. Those with compromised immune systems or those who are caretakers of infants and the elderly may want to pay particular attention to this news, but what we found while researching this strain of the virus was enough to make us all concerned.

Quick Read:
The flu, typically winding down by this point, has gotten a second wind and we should be paying attention. It’s back, yes, but it’s worse than we might expect because it’s rolling in hot as the strain that led to 79,000 deaths last year in this country. Cleanliness, limiting your exposure, good diet, sleep and exercise may be the best way to avoid the flu altogether. The decision around whether or not the flu shot is a good choice remains an active debate.

Severe Flu Strain Racks Up Death Toll

The Strain

In 2009 the H1N1 flu virus claimed its place in the world, killing nearly 12,500 Americans and 575,400 people across the globe. That outbreak was deadly not because the virus itself was anything special, but because no one under 60 had previously been exposed to anything like it. So it’s important to note here that the dominant strain that’s been going around this year so far, the one widely considered to be less severe, has been none other than H1N1.

Most know that flu viruses mutate a little each time they use a new host to reproduce, so previous exposure doesn’t necessarily protect from future infection. Though some may develop enough immunity to reduce the infection’s severity as was the case of some seniors during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic — they’d been exposed to a similar strain when they were children, one that hadn’t come back around in a very long time. And that saved lives.

But when someone is exposed to a flu strain their body has never encountered before — for example, during 2009 that was everyone too young to have ever been exposed to the variant of that strain — the virus and related problems can too easily turn deadly.

Outbreak Stats

In 2018 over 79,000 Americans died from the flu. This statistic far exceeds that of the 2009 pandemic. But why?

Much like what happened in 2009, most of us lacked immunity against the dominant strain, which this time around was H3N2.

We were ripe for this, most likely because many flu strains have become resistant to the most widely used forms of antiviral therapy, and this, sadly, frighteningly, can limit treatment options.

Here We Go Again?

And that’s where we are, again. For reasons still unknown, a new wave of H3N2 has just started making the rounds across the United States.

The death toll, so far, is only half as devastating as last year’s record numbers, but it’s reasonable to feel concerned given what we already know about this strain and its tally.

Because the H3N2 strain has only begun making the rounds, this year’s flu season may well stretch on through spring.

Researchers haven’t spoken yet on why we’re seeing two dominant strains this year, or why the introduction of another strain has occurred so late in the flu season. Most likely, their research is pending.

Given past performance, we can assume that the H3N2 strain may still be particularly virulent in comparison to other flu strains.

Protection Against the Flu

  • We should all know by now that washing our hands is basic science. So let’s make sure we do that.
  • Keep surfaces disinfected.
  • Keep the immune system strong by eating well and getting enough sleep among other things.
  • Teach kids that the face — especially the eyes, nose and mouth are all no-touch zones. (And practice this yourself.)
  • Viruses travel and thrive best in dry air, so keeping a humidifier running may help.
  • It’s best to forego handshakes and don’t share drinking vessels. Weird research find: Try the chef’s handshake, which is more like an elbow to elbow bump that keeps hands clean.

This year’s flu vaccine may offer some protection against both H1N1 and H3N2, as well as two of the less virile flu strains, also in circulation. But it’s worth noting that there is controversy around the flu shot so it’s not listed here because we need to go deeper than one bullet point with this one. We will look at the research in another article to compile some of that research in one place.

We don’t know if this year will wrap up with a strong second-wave or not, but the facts were enough to make us sit up and pay attention. So just know that this year, and this strain, is one to take seriously.

Copyright 2019,