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Area Hospitals Witness Spike In Flu Cases

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Several Indiana hospitals say they're seeing a spike in flu cases this year, and this season’s flu vaccine might be partially to blame.

IU Health Bloomington hospital has seen twice as many flu cases this season compared with last year.

The hospital has already surpassed the 198 cases recorded in December and January of last season, with a total number of 291 positive flu tests recorded just through December this year, IU Health Marketing Manager Amanda Roach says.

Matthew Oates of Franciscan St. Elizabeth Health in Lafayette says this season the hospital has seen 225 flu cases, compared to 49 during the same period in 2013.

“The last comparable season like that would be H1N1 in 2009,” says Kelsey Declue, a spokeswoman for Columbus Regional Health. Columbus Regional Health is yet another area hospital that has seen a sizable increase in flu cases.

Declue says sometimes the flu tends to target a specific age group, but she doesn't think that's the case with this particular strain.

“We’ve seen young children and babies all the way up to the elderly equally affected by this," she says. "It seems to be particularly hard on anyone, no matter the immune system that they have.”

And experts say Indiana is part of a national trend.

According to the Washington Post, the CDC has declared that the flu season this year has reached epidemic levels.

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“There are several states in the country reporting high levels of flu activity and Indiana is one of those states,” Centers for Disease Control Medical Officer Michael Jhung says.

Jhung says the spike in flu cases could be the result of this year's vaccine.

“It’s possible that this year we may be seeing more influenza in people because the vaccine may not be working as well this year as compared to previous seasons,” he says.

The CDC helps decide what goes into the flu vaccine about a half a year in advance. In the time between the creation of the vaccine and the actual flu season, the virus can mutate.

[pullquote]It’s possible that we may be seeing more influenza in people because the vaccine may not be working as well this year -Michael Jhung, CDC Medical Officer[/pullquote]

The process, called antigenetic drift, can render the vaccine less effective.

Jhung says that’s likely what’s happened this year with a strain called H3N2.

“What’s in the vaccine, as far as H3N2 goes, is a little different from what’s most commonly circulating in the United States right now,” he says.

And that difference is enough keep a large number of people from becoming protected from the flu.

Jhung says even though the strain has mutated, the vaccine is still effective against other types of the flu.

He says he still recommends the vaccine to the public, especially the very young and old and those with compromised immune systems.

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