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Healthy Living: Doctors say flu vaccine only 30% effective, but still want you to get the shot

The flu season is especially bad this year.  In fact the CDC reports epidemic levels nationwide.  Washington is not immune and cases are spreading across the state.  Doctors say their offices and emergency departments are being inundated with people suffering flu-like symptoms.  Q13's Marni Hughes sat down with Dr. Alex Hamling with Pacific Medical Centers to get his advice on the most prominent strain going around right now (H3N2) and his recommendation to best protect you and your family.

H3N2.  Why are kids and healthy adults having a tougher time fighting this off?

Every year when we see the H3N2 strain come around we know that it's just a nasty, terrible influenza bug.  It tends to be more severe, spreads quickly and leads to more deaths.  This happens to be that year where we're unlucky and we're seeing it.  The people I worry most about with the flu are the young kids, those 65 years old and older and those with chronic diseases.

What's the advice for people to protect themselves against it?

Number one, get your flu vaccine.  It's going to protect you and those around you.   It decreases the spread, the severity and the symptoms.  Number two, good hand washing.  Clean hands are happy hands.  Number three, good disinfectant, clean surfaces whether you're at home, at work or at the gym.

What is it that kills people from the flu?

It's generally not the flu itself that will kill people, it's the secondary infections that start to develop, the viral infections of bacterial infections that can lead to pneumonia or sepsis.

This years vaccine is supposed to protect against the H3N2 strain, why does it not seem to be effective?

The flu vaccination program says at it's peak will protect about 60%.  What we're seeing this year as a best guess is about 30% so still really good.  Other years it's been as low as 10%.  The H3N2 virus mutates very quickly and so using the reference strand may not be an exact match but it's definitely helped decreased severity, symptoms length of time and those secondary pneumonia and sepsis as well.

Are there places that we're more susceptible to getting the flu, work, school, the gym?

Yes, close quarters around people.  Schools, gyms, grocery stores, large congregations of people, church, shopping malls.  Again, good hand washing, cover your mouth when sneezing or coughing and staying away from sick people is probably the best advice.

When should people visit the doctor or the emergency department?

It's always better to see your doctor first.  They can do simple tests, nasal influenza swabs that results can come back in minutes to a few hours and that really helps tailor the treatment and medication to start.  I would say the emergency room is good opportunity to go if you are having trouble breathing, increased lethargy, trouble waking up, severe high fevers.