Why are people so vulnerable to this year's flu epidemic? 

  30 January 2018    Read: 1462
Why are people so vulnerable to this year
While it’s nothing out of the ordinary for the common cold to spread far and wide, during the past few months the flu epidemic has reached new levels of severity. 

Public Health England’s most recent weekly national influenza report includes 205 new confirmed cases of influenza being cared for in intensive care units and high dependency units.

There have been 1,283 new admissions and 155 confirmed deaths since October last year.

So, why does the flu appear to be so much worse this year than ever before?

“Recent statistics have shown that the number of people being hospitalised and dying has increased over recent months,” Dr Andrew Thornber, chief medical officer for the Now Healthcare Group tells The Independent. 

“This can be attributed to a number of factors, including new strains of influenza and an ever-growing population.”

People are encouraged to have the flu jab every year to safeguard themselves against new variations of the virus.

“There has been an increase in the number of people being admitted to hospital in comparison to last year due to the change in the strains of flu which are around,” explains Marvin Munzu, Jakemans expert.

“Flu is ranked in strains A to C, A being the most severe. 

“Originally the A strain of the flu tended to affect vulnerable people. However, more recently cases show the A strain making healthier individuals ill.”

Usually, those most likely to suffer from the flu fall into the “high-risk” category. 

“The flu can affect anyone, but the most susceptible include those with weakened immune systems or chronic medical conditions such as HIV/Aids, asthma and chronic heart or lung disease,” says Dr Thornber. 

“The elderly, pregnant women, babies and young children are also more susceptible.”

The Aussie flu, an influenza A virus strain otherwise known as H3N2, has recently been hitting the headlines.

This year’s flu jab is only 20 per cent effective against the H3N2 strain, due to the fact that the virus mutates at such a rapid pace. 

In 2015, researchers from Harvard concluded that your first exposure to the flu can affect the way in which your body responds to further infection later in life. 

“A person’s first infection with the influenza virus likely stimulates the production of key antibodies that then shape later immune responses to different season influenza strains,” they stated.

Medical experts have advised maintaining basic hygienic habits to prevent the spread of seasonal flu, such as covering your cough and washing your hands. 

However, Professor John Oxford PhD, scientific director of Oxford Media Medicine, believes a superior treatment for the flu may become available in the near future. 

“An important discovery from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute was identification of a human gene called IFITM3 which can control the degree of illness or even death in people infected with flu,” he said. 

“That could allow doctors to give enhanced treatment quickly to people who have been hospitalised.

“Meanwhile, we need to invest in science expertise for a so-called ‘universal flu vaccine’ which could give a broad protection in all age groups."


The Independent

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