Flu vaccines about 62% effective against this year's heavy outbreak
Got a flu shot and feeling pretty confident you'll be spared from this year's nasty flu season?
Don't be so sure.
A nationwide study conducted partly in Pittsburgh estimated on Friday that this season's vaccine is 62 percent effective, which means you still might end up in the doctor's office.
“The flu vaccine is far from perfect, but it's still by far the best tool we have to prevent the flu,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Childhood vaccines get 90 percent efficacy, and that's what we'd like to see.”
In explaining the vaccine's power, Frieden said people who receive it are 62 percent less likely to require a doctor's check-up or hospitalization than those who don't. In the past, flu vaccine effectiveness has ranged between 50 percent and 70 percent, he said.
Changes in the influenza strains circulating from year to year make it difficult for scientists to deliver a better vaccine, said Dr. Richard Zimmerman, professor of family medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. The vaccine typically contains a mix of flu viruses.
“It's hard to come up with a more effective vaccine because the flu changes all the time,” Zimmerman said. “The challenge is that you have to keep making a new vaccine each year.”
UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh's Schools of the Health Sciences operate one of five national sites that studied the vaccine's effectiveness as part of the U.S. Flu Vaccine Effectiveness Network. There were 251 local participants with acute respiratory illnesses, the most participants from all the sites, which collected specimens and analyzed data from 1,155 people nationwide.
Zimmerman said 83 of the local participants had the A strain of the flu virus that causes more severe symptoms.
“It's been a fairly severe season in this region at this point,” he said. While B strains of the virus have not been as prevalent in this region, Zimmerman said that may change as the season progresses.
This season's flu shot, which authorities estimate has been given to about 130 million people, contains vaccines for both strains.
The CDC's Frieden said the flu is likely to continue for several weeks. The typical flu season can last about three months.
“The only thing predictable about flu is that it's unpredictable,” Frieden said. “Only time will tell us how long the season will last and how moderate or how severe this season will be in the end.”
In its weekly analysis of flu activity, the CDC reported the virus was widespread in 47 states, up from 41 the prior week. The disease has killed 20 children 17 and younger. While flu activity might have peaked in some parts of the country, it typically ebbs and flows during the winter.
Some local hospitals have been jammed with patients complaining of flu-like symptoms. Dr. Joseph Bresee, a medical epidemiologist with the CDC, said other viruses might be to blame, including a norovirus that causes vomiting and diarrhea.
Luis Fábregas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7998 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Asking price for Penguins franchise said to be at a record $750M
- American to halt 2 direct routes from Pittsburgh International
- Western Pennsylvania schools’ denial of access to roofers prompts suit
- Police: Suspect in death of Fineview toddler changed his statements
- Shooting that killed Winchester Thurston grad surprised witnesses
- Animal activists targeting Vick at Steelers preseason game
- Accreditation drive part of agency revamp, Allegheny County Health Department director says
- Imagine Penn Hills Charter School of Entrepreneurship wins appeal to expand, accept more students
- Port Authority’s plan for car-free communities slow to bear fruit
- Civil War vet gets 21-gun salute
- Allegheny County police officer on leave after assault charges filed