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Indiana announces first flu death of the season, experts say flu shot is effective

By Lauren Chapman, IPB News | Published on in Government, Health, Science
Health officials in the U.S. look to Australia’s flu season to predict the strain that will be most common here. (Lauren Chapman/IPB News)

The Indiana Department of Health announced Friday the state’s first flu death of the season. Last year, 82 Hoosiers died from flu.

Health officials in the U.S. look to Australia’s flu season to predict the strain that will be most common here. Epidemiologists say flu shots are really effective against this year’s strain, but only if people get their vaccine.

Dr. Scott Stienecker is an epidemiologist with the Society for Professional Healthcare Epidemiologists of America and is based in Fort Wayne.

He said current U.S. flu cases are about 98 percent influenza A, h3n2.  

“We do expect h3n2 to be what’s wicked and traditionally it’s more likely to put you in the hospital or to cause death,” Stienecker said.

He said the good news is, the same strain accounted for about 94 percent of Australia’s flu cases. The country began a flu shot campaign in June and cases plummeted.

The Australian health agency’s report on yearly, laboratory-confirmed flu cases showed a significant rise in cases in May, which plummetted by the end of June. Stienecker credits this to the country’s flu shot campaign. (Courtesy of Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care)

“So that was–that was really cool to see, that they were effective,” Stienecker said. “So that–that gives us strong hope that that is going to be an effective strategy.”

Stienecker said your flu shot might also help your immune system fight off COVID-19.

“And there was some data that suggests that flu protects against COVID and COVID [vaccine] protects against flu,” he said. “We have seen some co-infected people – they were incredibly sick – but they also tended to be immunocompromised.”

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This particular strain of the flu virus can be evasive if it’s allowed to spread. So, Stienecker said the best way to protect yourself and your community is to get your flu shot as soon as possible.

During the 2017-18 flu season, Indiana recorded more than 1,000 deaths from flu. A little more than 43 percent of samples tested that year were influenza A, h3n2.

Contact Lauren at lchapman@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @laurenechapman_.