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Get Your Flu Shot, Even If It's Just 23 Percent Effective

caption: File photo of a flu shot.
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File photo of a flu shot.
Flickr Photo/Fort Meade (CC-BY-NC-ND)

The flu season has been more severe than expected, with 42 deaths in Washington state so far.

The main virus that’s circulating in the community, known as H3N2, causes more illnesses and deaths, especially among young kids and the elderly.

In addition a number of H3N2 strains have mutated, said Dr. Mike Jackson, a scientist at the Group Health Research Institute, and they are different from the strains that are in the vaccines.

Jackson co-authored a study analyzing this year’s vaccine and its effectiveness. The study shows the vaccine reduces a person’s risk by only 23 percent.

“In a typical year, the vaccine’s about 50 percent effective,” Jackson said. “So it cuts your risk of getting the flu in half. This year it’s more like cutting it in a quarter, which, given how severe flu can be, is still better than nothing.”

That’s why health officials still recommend getting a flu shot.

Dr. Jeffrey Duchin, chief of epidemiology for King County Public Health, said in an interview on The Record that the vaccine may still be effective on the strains that have mutated. "We won't know until the end of the season what the protection level was, but even partial protection is worthwhile, particularly in a severe flu season," Duchin said.

Health officials also urge doctors to use antivirals early, especially for elderly people, to prevent severe complications from the flu.

Flu symptoms to be aware of include sudden onset of

  • headache
  • fever
  • muscle pain and body aches
  • cough
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