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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.


Steve Irwin: He Gave Attention to One of Nature's Saltiest Big Boys

The endangered saltwater crocodile received a helping hand from Irwin.

The late icon of conservation Steve “The Crocodile Hunter” Irwin would have been 57 years old on Friday, and Google chose the day to mark his extraordinary life with a touching Google Doodle slideshow. Irwin was deeply involved with animals, reptiles especially, from an early age, as his parents ran a reptile park when was a child in Australia.

Steve Irwin Is Still Protecting Animals Worldwide, 13 Years After His Death

The Crocodile Hunter's legacy lives on in thousands of acres of protected land.

In 2004, the late conservationist Steve Irwin caught a lot of heat for feeding a crocodile while simultaneously holding his baby. The incident captured his lifelong approach to animal conservation, which began with his animal-filled childhood and continues even after his death with the conservationist legacy he left behind. Irwin’s 57th birthday would have been on Friday, and he was commemorated with a front-page Google Doodle.

Steve Irwin: How He Rose to Fame as the Crocodile Hunter

Google paid tribute to the star.

Google commemorated the life of Steve Irwin on Friday with a homepage doodle on what would have been the Australian’s 57th birthday. Irwin became a household name through his animal activism and television appearances, first launching onto screens of Animal Planet viewers with his show The Crocodile Hunter.

Irwin was born in the Essendon near Melbourne in 1962 to parents Lyn and Bob Irwin. His parents famously gave him an 11-foot scrub python for his 6th birthday which he named Fred. The young Steve learned a lot from his parents about animals, and they laid the foundations for Beerwah Reptile Park when they bought some land in 1970. Steve learned to wrestle crocodiles from the age of 9, and helped manage the family-owned park. The park was renamed Queensland Reptile and Fauna Park, and in 1990, it was renamed Australia Zoo — the same year Steve met producer John Stainton. He met his future wife, Oregonian Terri Raines, when she was visiting the park the following year. Their croc-filled honeymoon in 1992 formed the first episode of The Crocodile Hunter.

The Incredible Science Behind This Self-Warming, Self-Cooling Bed

Eight Sleep’s new bed will make tossing and turning a thing of the past.

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Sleep tracking can unquestionably help you establish better habits which allow for a more restful night’s sleep. By keeping track of the nights that you toss and turn, you can identify potential explanations for your sub-optimal slumber. Maybe it’s the time of week that’s got you anxious. Maybe it was the cheeseburger you had for lunch. Paying attention is just the start, though.

The 'Stoned Ape' Theory Might Explain Our Extraordinary Evolution

A scientist resurfaces a psychedelic retelling of human evolution.

Imagine Homo erectus, a now-extinct species of hominids that stood upright and became the first of our ancestors to move beyond a single continent. Around two million years ago, these hominids, some of whom eventually evolved into Homo sapiens, began to expand their range beyond Africa, moving into Asia and Europe. Along the way, they tracked animals, encountered dung, and discovered new plants.