The CDC has concerning news to share today—this year’s flu vaccine may not protect against a dangerous and commonly circulating strain.
Currently, vaccines protect against A/California/7/2009(H1N1)pdm09-like virus, A/Texas/50/2012 (H3N2)-like virus, B/Massachusetts/2/2012-like virus, and, in quadrivalent vaccines, (B/Brisbane/60/2008-like virus).4 H3 subtype viruses have been particularly common this year, but almost half of samples collected indicated that the circulating H3 virus is dissimilar from the H3N2 subtype listed above.
Moreover, is too late to change this year’s vaccine against influenza. The process takes about four months, but influenza season in the U.S. tends to peak in January and February and end by March.1
Individuals (especially at-risk groups) should still get the vaccine, for vaccination can attenuate infections if they do occur. At-risk groups tend to include adults over 65, children younger then 5—especially those under 2—and pregnant women. Moreover, persons with asthma, heart or lung disease, kidney or liver disorders, or weakened immune systems are at increased risk.2
Although vaccination attempts focus on prevention, we turn to antiviral drugs against the flu when prevention fails, and these drugs are proving to be effective.4 Oseltamivir and zanamivir are two neuraminidase inhibitors that dampen influenza’s ability to cause disease, and according to a recent CDC report, they continue to be effective against the viruses.4
As physicians and public health officials prepare to deal with the influenza threat, it seems natural to turn our attention to vaccine research and design. Although progress has been made in the speed and efficacy of vaccine interventions, it is apparent that more sophisticated efforts are in order if we hope to use preventive medicine against infectious disease.