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The “Problem Child” of Flu Strains Is Gaining Ground

December 3, 2021  ||  by Matt Albasi

The “Problem Child” of Flu Strains Is Dominating This Year 

While flu levels are increasing nationally, they remain relatively low with some exceptions. For instance, Kinsa’s data shows cough, runny nose and G.I symptoms are above expected  levels for this time of year in the South, one of the areas in the country also experiencing an uptick in verified flu cases. Also, as we’ve previously discussed, there have been numerous reports of influenza outbreaks on and around college campuses

CDC released a health alert last week about an uptick in flu activity, and also called attention to the primary strain in circulation this season, influenza A (H3N2). This variant is not new — it was also the dominant strain in the 2017-2018 season — but it is worrying. This variant has been called “the problem child of seasonal flu,” mostly because it tends to cause more severe illness seasons, leading to more hospitalization and deaths in persons aged 65 years and older. The good news is, the flu shot can protect from infection and severe disease with this strain. If you haven’t already, there’s still time to get your shot!

An illustration showing the influenza and covid-19 virus

The “Multidemic” Has Arrived

Back in August, Kinsa CEO Inder Singh appeared on MSNBC and predicted that a “multidemic” was coming this illness season. He meant that Kinsa’s data pointed toward many infectious illnesses co-circulating at elevated levels — a combination of COVID-19, flu, cold and other respiratory diseases. Now, as we move further into the illness season, this prediction has come true. 

Kinsa data shows that fever activity — which has been low since the pandemic began — has returned to normal levels for this time. Flu is rising around the country (i.e. San Diego and Florida), cases of RSV, which abnormally increased during the summer months, are stubbornly elevated (and rising in the West), and the viruses behind the “common cold” are also high. While COVID-19 case numbers are difficult to interpret this week because of reporting delays caused by the Thanksgiving holiday, it appears COVID is still on the rise as well. This information is not meant to cause alarm, only to keep you informed so you can make the right decisions for yourself and your family. Basic preventative measures are the best guard against these illnesses — vaccines, hand washing and surface cleaning are all sure-fire ways to limit the spread of illness.

Map of the US showing covid risk elevated in the Northeast, Midwest and Southwest

What We Know About The New COVID-19 Variant

The short answer is not much; we have to wait. The day after Thanksgiving, the World Health Organization announced a new COVID-19 “variant of concern,” Omicron. The new variant has a host of mutations compared to Delta and other previously circulating variants, but, for now, there is very little definitive information about what those mutations mean. Omicron has already been detected in 38 countries including the US, as of Friday, and it will continue to be found in new regions. It can be scary and frustrating, but more information on the effects of the mutations, including the impact on vaccine effectiveness, should become available in the coming weeks. 

It’s important we keep an eye on Omicron as things develop, and we’re still in the midst of a highly infectious Delta wave that’s likely been made worse by the recent holiday. It’s an excellent time to set up your COVID booster appointment (the FDA recently expanded eligibility to anyone 18 years or older) or get your first shot in the vaccine series if you haven’t done so. Just like during the earlier waves of the pandemic, practicing social distancing and wearing a mask, particularly indoors in crowded settings, can also help slow the spread of the virus.

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