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Why We’re Seeing a Deadlier Flu Season Than We’ve Seen in Years

It's all about those strains.

The 2017-2018 flu season is shaping up to be more nasty than recent years. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 13 children have already died from the flu this season. USA Today reports that some states are reporting much higher rates of flu-related hospitalizations than at this point one year ago.

What makes this season more threatening than others? Well, there’s a very specific reason, and it has to do with which particular type of flu strain is dominant this year. You see, the sickness you get from the flu is actually caused by a bunch of different strains of the influenza virus. This flu season, influenza A(H3N2) is the dominant strain, and it’s a biological bully.

Influenza A(H3N2) is the dominant flu strain this flu season, and it's exceptionally yucky.

Historically, flu seasons where influenza A(H3N2) was the dominant strain saw more young people and people 65 years or older being hospitalized or dying when compared to people in the middle of that age range. But it’s not just that A(H3N2) is a stronger viral strain — it’s also harder to vaccinate against.

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“[I]nfluenza vaccine effectiveness (VE) in general has been lower against A(H3N2) viruses than against influenza A(H1N1)pdm09 or influenza B viruses,” reads a CDC announcement from the end of December 2017. “Last season, VE against circulating influenza A(H3N2) viruses was estimated to be 32% in the U.S.”

That is not a great success rate for a vaccine, but it’s not necessarily because the vaccines are ineffective. That’s just how the flu vaccine works. The flu mutates so much from year to year that it’s really hard to effectively cover all our viral bases with a single vaccine. Usually, the flu vaccine you get at the doctor or drug store includes deactivated cells from two types of influenza A (H1N1 and H3N2) and influenza B. These cells, in combination with immune system irritating “adjuvants” help prep your immune system to fight off viral infection.

But unfortunately, these vaccines are just our best guess attempt at preempting the impact of flu in what has always been a perpetual viral arms race. For this reason, the CDC is recommending that all doctors who might be treating flu patients — which, to be clear, is all doctors who treat any patients — should also have antiviral medications on-hand.

And even though the success rate of the flu vaccine is relatively low, it’s still a good idea to get it. It will help protect you and your friends, family, and co-workers. It looks like this season, we need every weapon we can get.


NASA Astronaut and Flight Directors Weigh in on Commercial Spaceflight

Should NASA focus more on exploring or hauling?

In June, the historic Cradle of Aviation Museum on Long Island kicked off a monthlong celebration of Apollo 11. The museum, which is located right around the corner from the old Grumman facility where the lunar modules were actually built, has a long history with the Apollo program.

At that event, Inverse heard from three legendary figures in NASA history, former flight director Milt Winder, Apollo 13 astronaut Fred Haise, and former flight director Gerry Griffin, and we found out what they think about the space agency’s present and future partnerships with private space companies.

Six NASA Astronauts Describe the Moment in Space When "Everything Changed"

"This is what heaven must look like."

There’s no squinting in space. Things appear small, sure. From your vantage point, 254 miles above Earth, even the colossal Kapok trees of the Amazon are reduced to a verdant swirl in a cat-eye marble. But in space, as six NASA astronauts tell Inverse, what you see isn’t necessarily what you envision. Up there, where perspective is immeasurably wide, it’s impossible to miss the forest for the trees.

Uncanny Valley Researchers Pinpoint What Makes the 'Cats' Trailer So Creepy

"I personally did not find it to be creepy, but I think I have a pretty high threshold."

Cats, a sung-through 1981 Andrew Lloyd Webber fever dream based on a T.S. Eliot book of children’s poems about cats and sociology, is the latest musical to get the live-action treatment. It’s not the best idea. As weirded-out responses to the surreal trailer released Thursday suggested, the world is not ready for humanoid cats, which seem to have crept directly out of the uncanny valley. Valley guides agree.

2024 Moon Timeline Is "Extremely Tight," Says Former NASA Flight Director

"American industry, if it gets turned on, can do just about anything."

Whether or not you recognize Milt Windler’s name, you have definitely heard about his escapades. A retired NASA Flight Director, Windler was one of four flight directors on the Apollo 13 operations team, all of whom were awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Richard Nixon for their work in guiding the crippled spacecraft safely back to Earth.

Humans Aren't the Only Animals That Form Complex, Tiered Societies

"It would almost be more surprising if these were simply random interactions."

Each of us is a single node in a branching web of family, friends, and acquaintances. As our ancient ancestors transitioned from small, autonomous groups to a complex network of associations, scientists theorize that we humans, boosted by our social brains, became the only animals capable of creating a multi-tiered society. However, new evidence in Proceedings of the Royal Society B suggests that a close relative of ours exists in a similar system: the gorilla.