Flu Season Starts Early And May Be Brutal - Tri-State News, Weather & Sports

Flu Season Starts Early And May Be Brutal

Reporter: Shannon Samson

New Media Producer: Kerry Corum

The first cases of influenza are popping up in Evansville, about a month earlier than last year.

And experts say flu seasons that start early, often end up being brutal. Plus, there's news that the virus that was used to make the flu vaccine, isn't the same one that's making people sick.

Six months ago when people in Asia were coming down with the flu, scientists identified the most widespread forms of the virus, and used them to make a flu vaccine for us.

But it's not usually a perfect match for the flu we get here, because of some minor genetic changes in the virus, that happen along the way.

This year, however, those genetic changes may have been major.

Flu season has started early in Texas, Colorado and a few other states. 

People line up at a Dallas clinic for flu shots, as news surfaces that a particular strain of the virus can cause severe illness.

David Schultz, Md. tells us, "Even six months ago, we were concerned that this was going to be a more serious flu infection. However, I think the greater concern is that we're seeing some antigenic shift in the makeup of the virus itself."

An antigenic shift happens when the same flu virus that infects birds, can also infect cells in pigs. If the same cell is infected by a flu virus from a human or another animal, the genes may mix, resulting in a new flu strain that nobody is immune to.

This antigenic shift happens about every ten years, but isn't something Dr. Schultz is terribly worried about. He says, "I think there will be a greater chance of catching the flu, even in individuals who have had the flu shot. However, I think this will be of minor concern. I think it will be more important for people who have poor immune systems, those who are up in years."

That's because they're most at risk for serious complications and should be vaccinated.

People 50-years-old and older, nursing home residents or those in long term care facilities, adults and children over six-months-old with chronic medical conditions such as diabetes or asthma, women who will be more than three-months pregnant during flu season, and children and teens on long-term aspirin therapy.

As for everyone else, it's still a good idea to get a flu shot, and get it soon.

It takes up to two weeks for it to start working, and while you may not enjoy 100 percent immunity from this new strain of the virus, the CDC suspects the protection level will still be significant.

Time is of the essence, when it comes to treating the flu too. If you get to a doctor within 48 hours of the first signs of cough, congestion or runny nose, you can be put on Relenza or Tamiflu, two anti-viral medications that can cut the duration of the illness in half.

It's the difference between a week of being sick and just a a few days, but you have to get to the doctor within 48 hours, or the medicine doesn't work.

Is this new strain of the virus more serious? Yes, it's believed it's more aggressive, and causes more secondary infections like pneumonia.

And that's usually what kills people.

Keep in mind that antibiotics can treat those secondary infections, but they're especially dangerous for people who have immune problems or chronic illnesses.

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