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Aggressive New Flu Strain On The Rise In San Diego County

A bottle of influenza vaccine sits on a table at the South Region Live Well C...

Credit: Matt Hoffman/KPBS

Above: A bottle of influenza vaccine sits on a table at the South Region Live Well Center in Chula Vista, April 26, 2018.

GUEST: Eric McDonald, M.D., medical director of epidemiology, San Diego County

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Amid a soaring number of flu cases across San Diego County, doctors are warning of a new and aggressive strain of the virus.

A variant of swine flu called H3N2 is increasing across the region, said Eric McDonald, M.D., medical director of epidemiology for the county of San Diego. The strain tends to affect seniors the most, he said.

“As more H3N2 is seen, that means it’s more likely that we’ll see older people in our community getting affected by the flu,” McDonald said. “We can expect more outbreaks, more cases being reported.”

So far this flu season, the strain responsible for the majority of cases in the region, and across the nation, is H1N1, which tends to impact people under the age of 40. The latest county influenza report shows more than 6,000 people have been sickened and 45 people have died.

But according to the Centers for Disease Control, the dominant flu strain in some parts of the U.S. has shifted to H3N2. California will likely follow the trend, McDonald said.

“One might predict that H3N2 will become a bigger problem in San Diego in the next few weeks,” McDonald said. “We’re seeing a subtle shift. Whether that means there’ll be a majority of H3N2 in the future, we just don’t know.”

McDonald said H3N2 is a seasonal flu, and it’s similar to last year’s flu strain, but not exact. Symptoms include sudden onset fever, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue.

“This is a different H3N2 from last year,” McDonald said. “It’s a different strain of flu, and there are always different strains. And as one strain starts to go down in numbers, sometimes another strain starts to go up.”

He said the influenza vaccine is a good match for both H3N2 and H1N1, and urges everyone, especially seniors, to get vaccinated.

“With cases that are likely to extend for another couple of months, it makes sense to get a flu shot,” McDonald said.

The flu vaccine, which takes approximately two weeks for immunity to develop, is available at doctors’ offices and retail pharmacies. People without medical insurance can go to a community clinic or a county public health center.

For a list of locations, visit www.sdiz.org or call 2-1-1.

You can hear this story and other local news every morning by subscribing to San Diego Stories, KPBS’ daily news podcast. Subscribe via iTunes, Google Play or your favorite podcatcher.

“As more H3N2 is seen, that means it’s more likely that we’ll see older people in our community getting affected by the flu. We can expect more outbreaks," said Eric McDonald, M.D., medical director of epidemiology for the county of San Diego.

You can hear this story and other local news every morning by subscribing to San Diego Stories, KPBS’ daily news podcast. Subscribe via iTunes, Google Play or your favorite podcatcher.

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