Experts raise concerns flu could reach epidemic levels

Dr. Daniel B. Jernigan, director of the influenza division at the CDC, tells 'GMA' the latest on the flu outbreak and what people should do to protect themselves.
3:41 | 01/10/18

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Transcript for Experts raise concerns flu could reach epidemic levels
Thank you, robin. To you to new concerns about the flu which could soon reach epidemic levels. Experts are very concerned about the strain that's spreading this year and ABC's gio Benitez has the latest. Reporter: This morning, emergency rooms across the nation filling up. The rate of flu hospitalizations doubling in just one week according to the CDC. In one of the worst seasons in recent history. Sending Americans like Paul Paris to the doctor with symptoms like high fever, severe chills and muscle aches. I felt so incredibly cold like to my bones. Reporter: The CDC says this year's dominant strain h3n2 is known to be especially dangerous making its victims much sicker much more quickly than other types of flu. Historically it's been associated with higher instance of mortality, both in the elderly pop laying and in the very young population. Reporter: Some public health officials fear this is just the beginning. California already hit especially hard with 124 deaths across San Diego and Los Angeles counties alone. In terms of where we go from here, there is a little bit of unpredictability in flu activity. Reporter: And we're live now here at mt. Sinai hospital in New York. One thing they're doing here for very sick patients admitted to the hospital, they might want to do a DNA test to see what kind of flu they have. So I want to show you this. This is actually one of those DNA test, a swab, a nose swab and gives them the result in about an hour. Michael. All right, thank you very much for that, gio. For more we're joined by Dr. Daniel B. Jernigan from the influenza division of the CDC. Thanks for joining us. You say the CDC hates this strain of the flu. Why is it so bad and I guess the other question why is there such a big surge of it right now? Yeah, there's a couple things here. At CDC we monitor influenza very carefully. What we're seeing this year the influenza season started earlier and seems to be peaking right about now and so that's about a month earlier than it normally would be peaking and so lots of cases happening in lots of states all at the same time and so that's what I think people are feeling right now. We're getting a lot of questions from our viewers and most of the questions end up like this at the end, is it true that the shot is only about 10% effective this year and if that is true, why is that? Well, I think we need to take a step back and say this year the cases we're seeing like you mentioned are due to h3n2 which is a virus that whenever it shows up, it causes lots of disease, lots of hospitalizations, lots of cases and lots of deaths and we know that the influenza vaccine is the best way to prevent but in this season it is not as effective as it is for the other viruses that circulate so the 10% is a very low estimate that came out of Australia over their season last summer. The same kind of virus that we had last year was around 30%, 33% effective for the h3 component and more effective for the other parts of the vaccine trying to prevent the other flus circulating. So even though it doesn't prevent the flu it could make it a little bit less severe if someone were to get the flu and why is this strain, why is there such a big surge of it right now this year? Well, there's a lot of reasons for that. It may be that some of the weather has something to do with it. The virus was able to start circulating in time so that when folks went home for Thanksgiving or they went home for Christmas they were able to transmit it to the folks that they're with and because of that it's able to circulate quickly but we know this particular virus does cause more cases and it can be more severe.

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