So far this flu season, one Allegheny County resident has died from a flu-related illness. Last season, there were 31 fatalities, including a woman in her early 30s.
Dr. Graham Snyder, head of infection prevention at UPMC, said last year's high number of fatalities was due in large part to a strain called H3N2 that was widely circulating.
“Historically, the H3N2 strains do tend to cause more severe illness,” said Snyder. “That's not always the case, but historically that is and that may be one of the best explanations for why this year is a little different than last year.”
Snyder added that even though H3N2 infections are less common this season, people should still get vaccinated since the virus continues to circulate and flu season can last well into the spring.
Another possible reason the fatality rate is lower is because more people are getting the flu shot. Early data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that vaccination rates have increased slightly.
“If I'm sick with influenza and I'm going to see it come into contact with 50 different people over the next week while I transmit the flu, if a certain number of them are vaccinated it will be less likely to continue to propagate,” said Snyder.
If people do get sick, experts recommend they stay home so as to not spread germs to others.
A healthy person can easily survive the flu, experts say. But for those with weakened immune systems, like the very young or eldery, the infection can be fatal.
WESA receives funding from UPMC.