Here are a few tips to surviving flu seasonBy M. ERIC WILLIAMS,
Flu season 2017-2018 has been brutal. In the United States, flu season occurs in the fall and winter. While the influenza viruses circulate the entire year, most of the time flu activity peaks between December and February, however, activity can last as late as May.
The overall health impact (such as infections, hospitalizations, and deaths) of a flu season varies from season to season. Almost as predictable as the outbreak of flu comes the self-described experts on social media that advise against taking a flu shot in any form. There is a lot of incorrect information out there regarding the flu shot, so let’s take a look at some of it.
Why do people get the flu shot? Per the Center for Disease Control, influenza is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death. Every flu season is different, and influenza infection can affect people differently, but millions of people get the flu every year, hundreds of thousands of people are hospitalized and thousands or tens of thousands of people die from flu-related causes every year.
Even healthy people can get very sick from the flu and spread it to others. An annual seasonal flu vaccine is the best way to reduce your risk of getting sick with seasonal flu and spreading it to others. When more people get vaccinated against the flu, less flu can spread through that community.
How does the flu shot work? Flu vaccines cause antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after vaccination. These antibodies provide protection against infection with the viruses that are in th
e vaccine. The seasonal flu vaccine protects against the influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season.
Traditional flu vaccines (called “trivalent” vaccines) are made to protect against three flu viruses; an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus, and an influenza B virus. There are also flu vaccines made to protect against four flu viruses (called “quadrivalent” vaccines). These vaccines protect against the same viruses as the trivalent vaccine and an additional B virus.
Can I get the flu even if I got the shot? Yes. There is still a chance you could get the flu even if you have been vaccinated. The ability of flu vaccine to protect a person depends on various factors, including the age and health status of the person being vaccinated, and also the similarity or “match” between the viruses used to make the vaccine and those circulating in the community. If the viruses in the vaccine and the influenza viruses circulating in the community are closely matched, vaccine effectiveness is higher. If they are not closely matched, vaccine effectiveness can be reduced.
However, it’s important to remember that even when the viruses are not closely matched, the vaccine can still protect many people and prevent flu-related complications.
The reality is that nothing can 100 percent protect you from the flu. However, if you were to walk into an area with gunfire, would you rather wear a bullet-resistant vest because it provides some protection or nothing at all?
Then there are those who say they have never gotten the flu shot and never gotten the flu. To that, I say that I would like to sell you a rock on my desk that keeps elephants away. I have the rock and I have never seen any elephants in my office; must be the rock, right? Even though the flu vaccine is typically offered in October, it might still be an option for you.
Talk to your physician if you have not already taken it and see what’s right for you.
Stay safe out there.
M. Eric Williams, MS, NR-P is a Mississippi native and Instructor of Emergency Medicine. He is a Doctoral Candidate and has 15 years’ experience in healthcare. If you have questions or comments, you may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.