Yes, it’s a wretched, awful, miserable flu season this year

If you thought flu season was bad this year, here’s a little confirmation.

It’s bad this year.

An early season and a troublesome flu strain have sickened a lot of people in our community, and across the country.

It’s been setting some records at University Health System, where the virology lab is reporting total weekly numbers of cases approaching the volumes seen during the swine flu pandemic in 2009, with 273 positive cases the week ending Jan. 6.

Most of those were University Health System patients, and the numbers are likely deceptively low because when flu is in full swing, many providers forego testing and begin treatment right away with antivirals, which work better the faster they’re started.

Dr. Jason Bowling, an infectious disease specialist and staff epidemiogist at University Health System, told San Antonio Express-News’ reporter Rich Marini that the predominant strain of flu this year — A/H3N2 — tends to mutate more quickly, and may have changed its shape since this year’s vaccine was formulated.

“In Australia, where the flu season begins before ours, the vaccine’s effectiveness was pretty low, about 13 percent,” Dr. Bowling told the Express-News. “That’s because this year’s flu tends to have more minor genetic mutations, called ‘drifting.’ So the vaccine doesn’t match up with it as well as we’d like.”

Still, if you haven’t yet gotten a flu shot, Dr. Bowling recommends you get it quickly. Even if it doesn’t work as well, it will lessen the flu’s severity and keep you out of the hospital. Influenza is the most worrisome of the wintertime respiratory infections. Flu kills thousands of people each year in the U.S., results in hundreds of thousands admitted to hospitals, and infects millions.

Plus, there are multiple strains circulating right now that are more susceptible to the vaccine, including an A/H1N1 strain and a B strain, University Health System’s lab reports.

There are other ways to protect yourself and others, including frequent handwashing, covering your cough and staying home when you’re sick.

And if you do get the flu, read the complete Express-News interview with Dr. Bowling and University Medicine Associates physician Dr. Amy Cobb on how to prevent flu from worsening into pneumonia.