Researcher explains why this flu season is so bad | KOB 4
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Researcher explains why this flu season is so bad

NBC News Channel
January 31, 2018 05:27 PM

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (NBC News) -- Inside the flu lab at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, samples from local patients are coming in at a rapid pace.

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Dr. Arnold Monto, a world-renowned expert in influenza, said the predominance of H3N2 this year is partially to blame for the severe season.

"This particular subtype, unfortunately, it both causes the most severe disease in terms of complications," he said. "And it also is the one that the vaccine doesn't work as well as the other subtypes."

Monto believes a large part of the problem has to do with how the flu vaccine is currently made.

"The reason it happens is that the vaccine virus is grown in eggs," he said. "When you put the vaccine virus into eggs there are mutations in the virus and it gets to be less similar to the virus that's circulating in people."

While researchers are working on other ways to grow the vaccine in insect cells or plants, Monto thinks many smaller changes can also lead to a more effective vaccine.

"We really need to focus on the short term as well as the long-term and I think that's happening," he said.

One example of that is the high dose flu shot currently approved for seniors. It's about 20 percent more effective, and that includes higher protection against that more dangerous H3N2 strain.
Another advance is in antiviral medications.

"We do have antivirals that are underused when you do get the flu, and this is whether you are vaccinated or not," Monto said.

In about a month, they'll have preliminary data on how effective this year's vaccine has been. But Monto can already say, it's been a strange flu season.

"A lot of people are getting sick that haven't got flu in a long time," Monto said.

While this flu season is still going strong, Monto said the Food and Drug Association will meet on March 1 to formalize the strain selection for next year's flu vaccine.

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NBC News Channel

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