Severe flu season hits central Indiana

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Indianapolis, Ind. (December 9, 2014) — It’s National Flu Vaccination Week; an important reminder for Hoosiers after state health officials announced the first flu death of the season. The victim was 65 years old and had not been vaccinated against the flu.

Still, the flu vaccine can’t fight all forms of the flu virus. A new strain developed this season, making the flu shot less effective.

“One of the things we do is look at emergency room data and people with flu symptoms in the ER, and here in Marion County we’ve definitely seen an increase in those numbers,” said Melissa McMasters, coordinator of the Immunizations and Infection Disease Program at the Marion County Health Department.

“One of the strains circulating is associated more with hospitalizations and deaths, so we’re anticipating seeing more of that strain,” McMasters said.

That strain is H3N2. The Centers for Disease Control says it drifted from this year’s vaccine.

“It looks like about a 53% match to that specific strain. Even if we enter into a flu season knowing what this strand looks like, it can evolve and change,” McMasters explained. “With this H3N2 strain, it tends to affect the very old and the very young.”

But health officials say people of all ages will still have a better chance fighting the flu if you get the vaccine.

“I can’t stress it enough – get your flu shot,” said Jessica Kinslow, program manager of Flu Immunizations for St. Francis Visiting Nurse service.

“You might still end-up getting the flu, but you won’t get it as severe and you’ll bypass some of the complications that come with it,” Kinslow said.

The health department shared the same advice.

“The good news about that is, even though it’s a mismatch, there’s still some, what they call 'cross protection' so that means, even if you get the vaccine and get that strain, you might get sick, but you most likely won’t end up with a more severe outcome like hospitalization and deaths,” McMasters said.

The Marion County Public Health Department is hosting a free flu shot clinic this Friday, Dec. 12 from noon to 4 p.m. at its community building, 4012 N. Rural St.

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