Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Sorry, You Might Get the Flu Twice This Year — Here’s Why

Health + Wellness
Tero Vesalainen / iStock / Getty Images

By Julia Ries

  • Two flu strains are overlapping each other this flu season.
  • This means you can get sick twice from different flu strains.
  • While the flu vaccine isn't a perfect match, it's the best defense against the flu.

To say this flu season has been abnormal is an understatement.


For one, the flu season got its earliest start in 16 years.

Up to 18 million people have gotten the flu this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) latest estimates. Up to 210,000 people have been hospitalized and thousands have died, including 39 children.

We're also seeing B strains of the flu dominate, something that hasn't happened in the United States in nearly 30 years.

And, unfortunately, the vaccine missed the mark with B/Victoria, the most common strain we're seeing this year. The CDC believes the shot only covers about 58 percent of B-linked cases.

Now, halfway through flu season, A strains are picking up, increasing the odds we'll have a "double-barreled flu season," in which two strains strike back to back — a pattern health experts say is extremely rare.

Between the early start, rise in B strains, and recent spike in A-strain illnesses, this flu season officially has infectious disease experts stumped.

"This season has turned a lot of [what we know about flu] on its head," said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist with Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the medical director at the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. "There's a lot we know, and even more we don't know about flu."

Double-Barreled Flu Season

A double-barreled flu season occurs when two flu outbreaks overlap one another, a pattern which is very unusual, according to flu experts.

Last year, for example, we saw A/H1N1 infections peak early, followed by another wave of A/H3N2 infections.

Though the predominant strains are different this year, we're seeing the same pattern play out: Activity took off with B/Victoria and now that second wave of A/H1N1 is coming for us, according to Schaffner.

"Around the country, my colleagues and I are seeing H1N1 come up strong, and it's now about 50-50 [with B/Victoria]," Schaffner told Healthline.

The most worrisome part of a double-barreled flu season is that you can get sick twice.

Just because you caught a B-strain flu doesn't mean that you're immune from the A strains.

"There will be the rare person who gets two flu infections in the same season — one with B and one with H1N1," Schaffner said.

Though there will be some protection within each strain — in that contracting an A strain will protect you against other A strains, and B strains will protect against other B's — there's not much cross protection.

A double-barreled season also means we're more likely to see a prolonged influenza season.

What to Know About B and A Strains

The fact that B strains are predominating this year isn't just confusing, it's concerning as well.

B strains haven't hit this hard for nearly 30 years, since during the 1992–1993 season, the CDC told Healthline.

Additionally, we didn't see much of the B strain in the past couple of years, according to Dr. Norman Moore, the director of infectious diseases for Abbott.

This means that many people — especially kids — have never been exposed to the strain, and consequently, don't have residual immunity against it.

"When there's a rarity, it actually sets you up for another bigger push to get it, because at that point, we really don't have anybody with any strong immunity going around, so we're all potential vessels for getting exposed and transmitting it," Moore said.

This is one of the reasons kids are being hit harder this year. They've never been exposed to this type of the flu — it's their first go around.

"These kids are just brand new to getting flu B," Moore said.

And because we haven't seen much of the B/Victoria strain in the past few years, this year's vaccine missed the mark.

"We thought initially the match was perfect, but it's not. It's off a little bit, and that means in many populations the vaccine is not going to function optimally," Schaffner explained.

Fortunately, the vaccine covers H1N1 well. According to Schaffner, the match to H1N1 is right on.

And because A strains circulate every year, most people have built up at least some "immune memory" to it — despite the fact these strains change and mutate each year.

"Our past experience with influenza viruses does give us some residual protection that lasts," Schaffner said.

There’s Still Time to Get Vaccinated

"It's not too late," Moore said about the vaccine, noting that we still don't know for sure what's going to happen next.

If flu A continues to get worse, as predicted, the flu shot will protect you through the rest of the season.

And even though the vaccine isn't a perfect match to B strains, it can still help lessen the severity of the flu.

"If you've been vaccinated, and even if there is a mismatch, you are likely to have a less severe infection when you get it," Schaffner said.

Remember: By getting immunized, you're not only protecting yourself, but others as well who may be more at risk for developing severe complications — like the elderly, pregnant women, children under 2, and immunosuppressed people.

"When we protect ourselves, we are really protecting those around us," Moore said.

The Bottom Line

Health experts say this has been an extremely unusual flu season. It started very early with a strain that we typically don't see much of. Now, another strain is building momentum and creating a path for what's known as a double-barreled flu season, in which two types of flu strike back to back. With a second wave coming, flu experts say it's not too late to get vaccinated before things pick up again.

Reposted with permission from Healthline. For detailed source information, please view the original article on Healthline.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

During a protest action on May 30 in North Rhine-Westphalia, Datteln in front of the site of the Datteln 4 coal-fired power plant, Greenpeace activists projected the lettering: "Climate crisis - Made in Germany" onto the cooling tower. Guido Kirchner / picture alliance / Getty Images

Around 500 climate activists on Saturday gathered outside the new Datteln 4 coal power plant in Germany's Ruhr region, to protest against its opening.

Read More Show Less
Dr. Mark Brunswick (2R), Vice President of Regulatory Affairs and Quality, walks through the lab at Sorrento Therapeutics in San Diego, California on May 22. ARIANA DREHSLER / AFP / Getty Images

By Julia Ries

Around the world, there have been several cases of people recovering from COVID-19 only to later test positive again and appear to have another infection.

Read More Show Less

By Samantha Hepburn

In the expansion of its iron ore mine in Western Pilbara, Rio Tinto blasted the Juukan Gorge 1 and 2 — Aboriginal rock shelters dating back 46,000 years. These sites had deep historical and cultural significance.

Read More Show Less
Meadow Lake wind farm in Indiana. Anthony / CC BY-ND 2.0

By Tara Lohan

The first official tallies are in: Coronavirus-related shutdowns helped slash daily global emissions of carbon dioxide by 14 percent in April. But the drop won't last, and experts estimate that annual emissions of the greenhouse gas are likely to fall only about 7 percent this year.

Read More Show Less
Andrey Nikitin / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Adrienne Santos-Longhurst

Plants are awesome. They brighten up your space and give you a living thing you can talk to when there are no humans in sight.

Turns out, having enough of the right plants can also add moisture (aka humidify) indoor air, which can have a ton of health benefits.

Read More Show Less
A bald eagle chick inside a nest in Rutland, Massachusetts. Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife
A bald eagle nest with eggs has been discovered in Cape Cod for the first time in 115 years, according to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (Mass Wildlife), as Newsweek reported.
Read More Show Less

Trending

The office of Rover.com sits empty with employees working from home due to the coronavirus pandemic on March 12 in Seattle, Washington. John Moore / Getty Images

The office may never look the same again. And the investment it will take to protect employees may force many companies to go completely remote. That's after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new recommendations for how workers can return to the office safely.

Read More Show Less