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Peak Flu Season Is Here

by Sarah Elizabeth Adler, AARP Contributor

“Flu season is well underway, and while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is reporting “widespread” activity in 30 states, experts say this flu season is shaping up to be milder than last year’s.

One key difference is that H1N1, the flu virus causing the majority of illnesses in most regions this season, tends to be less severe than last year’s dominant H3N2 strain, which resulted in a record number of hospitalizations for adults 65 and older and an estimated 80,000 deaths overall. This year’s strain has historically also affected older adults less severely than it has affected younger adults.

However, says William Schaffner, M.D., medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, that’s no reason to think you’re out of flu’s reach — or to forgo a flu shot, which for older adults especially can help prevent serious, and sometimes fatal, complications. “We’ve had plenty of people hospitalized this year in all age groups,” he says. “[The strain] should not impact an individual’s decision to get vaccinated.”

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In fact, flu vaccines are typically about 60 percent effective against H1N1, according to a Lancet study. That’s not so bad when you consider, by way of comparison, that last year’s flu shot was only 25 percent effective against the nasty H3N2 strain, and 40 percent effective overall.”

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