H3N2 flu strain seen in majority of confirmed cases in Alberta this season

Although it’s still too early to tell, statistics from Alberta Health Services (AHS) suggest the 2014 vaccine may not be as effective as hoped against this year’s most prominent influenza strain.

Of the 924 confirmed cases in Alberta so far this season, 818 of them are H3N2 strain.

“If it’s not as protective as other years. It certainly means that we’re at risk of seeing higher volumes of cases,” said Dr. Edward Les, who works at the Alberta Children’s Hospital emergency room.

Dr. Jim Dickinson says influenza season hit Calgary early this year and there are six times as many cases so far.

He says the vaccine that is being used is only providing protection for roughly half of the people who get it.

“If you get 50 per cent protection, hey that’s better than being taken to bed for three days and feeling as if you’ve been runover by a steam roller and if you get 50 per cent reduction in that, that’s still worthwhile,” said Dickinson.

Doctors must research and predict which viruses are most likely to spread during the upcoming flu season to include them in the vaccine.

Every year the influenza vaccine is designed to protect against three different strains of the flu virus: 

  • H1N1 strain (Influenza A). 
  • H3N2 strain (Influenza A). 
  • Influenza B strain.

Flu shot still important, say officials

“Unfortunately, the flu is a very wily opponent and it keeps on varying. It’s an unstable virus,” said Dickinson, who runs Tarrant — an Alberta-wide program that monitors influenza communities.

“It’s not like measles or mumps, which stay the same year after year, and that allows us to give a few shots, and that then gives life-long protection,” he said. “No, unfortunately the flu keeps varying so we’re always chasing it.”

Judy McDonald, a Calgary zone medical officer of health, stresses the vaccine is worthwhile.

“I worry that people are thinking, ‘Well, maybe this vaccine isn’t going to be as effective in protecting me against this H3N2 strain that’s circulating.’ I would counter with that we don’t expect this to be the only influenza virus in town,” said McDonald. “It’s still early in the season.”

Nine people have died from the flu in Alberta — two of them in Calgary.

McDonald says people should be extra cautious around the holidays.

“So as we get in to the holiday season, it is customary for people to get together, and when people get together the viruses love it,” she said.

McDonald offered the following advice to help protect yourself against getting sick during the holidays:

  • Get the flu shot.
  • Wash your hands often with soap. Use hand-sanitizer between washes.
  • Get plenty of rest, eat well and exercise.
  • If you do get sick, stay home to avoid spreading the virus to others. 

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