With flu season here, Stanford doctor talks about new strain

'I can't stress enough how important it is to get vaccinated,' she says

It's that time again when many Americans are ringing in the new year with a fever, sniffles and extreme fatigue – otherwise known as the flu.

At least 43 states in the U.S. have reported widespread outbreaks and the number of people having to be hospitalized is swelling. As of last week, the California Department of Public Health announced the state's first death of a person under the age of 65.

In a new Q&A, Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, chief of infectious diseases at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford and Stanford Children's Health, sheds light on influenza trends and how to hopefully avoid the virus this season.

When is flu season?

Maldonado: The season started last month, in early December, and goes through March.

How is the spread of influenza nationwide and in California looking for 2014-15?

Maldonado: Through December, we've had more people getting sick nationwide than we had last year, but fewer deaths. Twenty-one pediatric deaths have been reported in the U.S. so far. California is just starting to experience a wider flu outbreak for this season, and is likely to see continued activity of the flu in upcoming months. The state is commonly late compared to the rest of the country.

Is there a particular age group or demographic that is especially at risk?

Maldonado: At this point, the largest group being affected are adults 65 years of age and older. The second group is children 0-4. Individuals with certain underlying chronic diseases, especially respiratory diseases, are at higher risk of severe symptoms.

Which strain are we seeing most this season?

Maldonado: The H3N2 strain of influenza A is much more common this year than the H1N2 strain. The H3N2 strain is typically associated with more severe illness and mortality compared to the H1N1 strain.

Is this year's vaccine a match for the strain? And why should people get vaccinated now, if they haven't already?

Maldonado: Unfortunately, this year the H3N2 vaccine is not as good a match as initially expected. However, it still offers some protection. But I can't stress enough how important it is to get vaccinated. It's the best tool we have of fighting the flu and we're only a couple of months into the season. It's not too late to still be vaccinated.

How can people tell the difference between the flu and the common cold?

Maldonado: A cold is generally a runny nose, runny eyes and a sore throat. It's uncomfortable, but you can make it through the day with a cold. With the flu, along with the runny nose, runny eyes and sore throat, you likely have a fever and extreme body fatigue – you're achy all over. You feel like you've been hit by a truck and want to just stay in bed.

Besides a flu shot, is there anything proactive a person can do to avoid getting sick?

Maldonado: Both children and adults need to wash their hands after contact with others and after coughing or sneezing. Other than that, there is nothing scientifically proven to prevent flu other than a flu shot. Children should not be given aspirin if they start experiencing flu-like symptoms. Aspirin is associated with liver problems in children who have the flu. Instead, we recommend acetaminophen.

Dr. Maldonado is also Berger-Raynolds Distinguished Fellow and professor of pediatrics and health research and policy and chief of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at the Stanford University School of Medicine, and senior associate dean for faculty development and diversity.

We can't do it without you.
Support local journalism.


Like this comment
Posted by ptowngal
a resident of Del Prado
on Jan 15, 2015 at 12:34 pm

Some people don't believe in taking medications or doing any kind of preventative health care like flu shots or any kind of shots for that matter. I don't know where this mindset originated but it's wrong to omit the things in life that would keep them healthy and prevent sickness. Some diseases that have been eradicated by vaccines are polio, smallpox, yellow fever, malaria, measles, mumps, rubella. The list goes on and on..... Get your flu shots people... It just may save your life.

Like this comment
Posted by Ed
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Jan 15, 2015 at 12:57 pm

I agree. In terms of public health if more people get the flu shot then there are less people walking around infecting others and spreading the problem

Like this comment
Posted by Michael Austin
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Jan 15, 2015 at 2:58 pm

Michael Austin is a registered user.

I agree, get your flu shot.
One problem with this years influenza outbreak is that it does not protect one from the H3N2 influenza going around.

My wife is a provider and she contracted the H3N2 and brought it home. twenty-four hours after she complained of being ill, I begin to experience the same symptoms. My wife used face mask, gloves and gown when in the clinics and nursing homes.

I can tell you from experience the older you are the greater the H3N2 impacts your body. Seniors should get to the doctor immediately or emergency room if they begin to experience flu like symptoms.

Tamiflu may provide some relief. It is available through prescription.

Like this comment
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 16, 2015 at 10:17 am

Do illegal aliens get flu shots!!?

1 person likes this
Posted by Ed
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Jan 16, 2015 at 10:44 am

To Citizen, come on now, don't you know that "illegal alien" has been stricken from the English language, just like other words such as "degenerate" and "pervert"
Time to get with the program my friend

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Be the first to know

Get the latest headlines sent straight to your inbox every day.

Couples: Mirror, Mirror on the . . . Fight?!
By Chandrama Anderson | 3 comments | 1,229 views

Talking sports and life with Tommy Dyer
By Tim Hunt | 1 comment | 1,219 views