H3N2 flu: symptoms, treatment and prevention

An H3N2 flu outbreak in India has claimed at least two lives, according to the country’s health authorities. The virus is known to cause serious illness in young children and older adults. So it’s normal to wonder what exactly H3N2 is and what you can do to protect yourself from the swine flu variant.

Health experts in India are calling on people to wear masks, practice careful hand hygiene and get a flu shot if they haven’t already. Although the current outbreak is happening around the world, it has caught the attention of people outside the country given how easily infectious diseases can spread. The H3N2 strain “tends to be particularly harsh on vulnerable populations,” says infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, senior researcher at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

That said, flu season in the United States is currently coming to an end – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that seasonal influenza activity is low across the country, although the most flu cases frequently reported are H3N2. According to CDC estimates, there have been at least 26 million flu cases, 290 hospitalizations and 18,000 flu deaths so far this season.

Of course, with everything we’ve been through over the past three years, it’s understandable to feel a little nervous when you hear about an outbreak. So, do you need to worry about H3N2 in the United States? Here’s the deal.

What is H3N2?

In general, H3N2 is a flu strain that you want to avoid, if possible. But experts point out that the United States has just faced a flu season with H3N2.

H3N2 flu viruses began circulating in humans in 1968, according to Penn Medicine, and evolved over the decades that followed. While H3N2 viruses tend to hit vulnerable populations hard, anyone can catch it.

“When you have H3N2-dominated seasons, you tend to see more flu-related deaths,” says Dr. Adalja.

“H3N2 is a seasonal flu strain. This is the dominant strain for this year’s flu season, including in the United States,” says Dr Adalja. “India just seems to have a later peak than the US – H3N2 has already come and gone during US flu season.”

Should we be worried about H3N2?

Dr Adalja says we are unlikely to see H3N2 again this season, despite how quickly it is spreading in India. “People have immunity because of the exposure” of this season, Dr. Adalja points out. With flu season ending in the United States, H3N2 is also unlikely to double its return, he says.

Consider this too, according to Dr. Adalja: H3N2 was one of the strains included in the flu vaccine. So if you got your flu shot, you should be covered.

Given that H3N2, which is a form of influenza A, was the dominant strain of influenza in the United States this season, there is a chance that we could see a “little bump” in influenza cases caused by the influenza B before the end of the influenza season. , says Thomas Russo, MD, professor and chief of infectious diseases at the University at Buffalo in New York. “There’s a tendency to see B show his ugly face later in the season,” he explains.

H3N2 symptoms

Symptoms of H3N2 tend to be the same as other forms of flu. According to the CDC, these can include:

  • fever or feeling feverish
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • runny or stuffy nose
  • muscle or body aches
  • headache
  • fatigue
  • Vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children than adults)

How is H3N2 treated?

H3N2 is treated the same way as other flu strains, says Dr. Adalja. This means it can be treated with one of four antiviral drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration for influenza:

  • oseltamivir phosphate (Tamiflu)
  • zanamivir (Relenza)
  • peramivir (Rapivab)
  • baloxavir marboxil (Xofluza)

How to protect yourself against the H3N2 flu

It’s best to get your flu shot in the fall or even early winter, says Dr. Adalja (at this point, chances are you’ve been exposed to the flu and, again, the threat has largely passed).

It’s also a good idea to continue to follow common sense flu prevention guidelines, such as practicing good hand hygiene (knowing how to wash your hands) and doing your best to stay away from people who cough and sneeze, says William Schaffner, MD, an infectious disease specialist and professor at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. If you catch the flu, call your doctor. “You can still be treated with an antiviral drug,” he says.

Dr. Russo stresses the importance of good hand hygiene, no matter the season. “It’s a good thing to do year-round to minimize the risk of getting infected with a myriad of infectious agents that we have,” he says. “When winter is gone, we all have our summer bugs. Hand hygiene is always a good strategy.

Portrait of Korin Miller

Korin Miller is a freelance writer specializing in general wellness, health and sex, and lifestyle trends, with work appearing in Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Self, Glamour, and more. She has a master’s degree from American University, lives near the beach, and hopes to one day own a teacup pig and a taco truck.

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