Tuesday, February 25, 2020
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School cancelled in Litchfield IL over flu outbreak

School officials in Litchfield, Illinois, a rural community near St Louis, cancelled school Thursday and Friday as a result of a flu outbreak, the Belleville News-Democrat reports.

On Wednesday, Litchfield Superintendent Debbie Poffinbarger said about 23 percent of the students were out sick. About 420 students are enrolled this year at Litchfield High School, the district’s only high school. District 12 also includes a middle school and three elementary schools, which are divided by grade band, not by region.

“It is my hope students will have time to recoup with the four-day weekend,” Ms Poffinbarger was quoted as saying. “Custodian crews are working hard to sanitize and disinfect surfaces. I am anxious to see students back Monday, hopefully fever-free.”

Health officials have said that the influenza vaccine now available may miss the mark: strains of the virus in the vaccine may not be stimulating the immune systems of vaccine recipients well enough, according to a report published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

It seems to be only about “10 percent effective,” in fact, and officials say Australia, where the flu season typically occurs during the summer months in the US, has been experiencing record-high numbers of cases and higher hospitalizations than usual, according to multiple news reports. CNN reported in September that Australia had seen almost 2½ times more infections during the winter season than last year and that adults over the age of 80 and children between 5 and 9 years old have been most affected.

Last year, 20 children died from the flu in Illinois, and Litchfield schools are simply taking precautions here to subdue the spread of the virus. This year’s outbreak is predicted to be more widespread than usual.

Why are vaccines sometimes ineffective?

Although scientists, doctors, and public health officials try to make the most careful predictions about how the influenza virus, in all its strains, will behave each year, it’s not an exact science, and they frequently make wrong predictions.

What happens is that sometimes they predict one strain will take hold and it doesn’t. Or a strain becomes prominent that they had no way of seeing. In either case, there’s a mismatch between what’s in the vaccine and what’s going around.

But that’s just one of the many problems with flu vaccines.

Another problem is that the very process of making the vaccine causes an “error” in the virus. That error makes the vaccine less antigenic. In other words, when the vaccine is administered to a human, with the error, for some reason, it doesn’t stimulate the person’s immune system to produce antibodies against the virus as effectively as a perfectly effective vaccine would.

Many scientists believe that’s what happened with the current H3N2 mismatch. That’s the code given to the strain of influenza virus that seems to be going around right now, and since we know what the H3N2 strain looks like—what its DNA sequences are—it’s simply more likely that the making of the vaccine and introduction of transcription errors somehow made the vaccine less effective against the H3N2 strain of influenza.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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