In preparation for the upcoming flu season, here’s what you need to know:
This year’s flu shot should work well to fight off this year’s strain of the flu, federal health officials said Thursday.
If true, that prediction will be a welcome shift from a year ago, when a strong, mutated flu strain was largely resistant to last year’s vaccine, catching doctors and the public by surprise.
“So far, the strains in this year’s vaccine seem likely to match,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Two strains of influenza virus have been changed in this season’s vaccines, based on the viruses that experts believe will be circulating during the upcoming flu season.
Typically, the flu season starts in October, before peaking in the winter. But flu vaccines are reformulated months earlier, based on what experts predict will be best to fight off what they believe will be in circulation.
Public health officials said Thursday that now is the best time to get a flu shot, because the vaccine takes about two weeks to become fully protective.
“People don’t think of flu when it’s really warm outside,” said Dr. Matt Zahn, Orange County Health Care Agency’s top epidemiologist. “But it’s better to get vaccinated now so you’re going to be protected when flu season gets here.”
Doctors and public health officials say the severity of any flu season is impossible to predict.
Though the flu vaccine does not always work – in the past decade the effectiveness rate has ranged from 10 percent to 60 percent – health officials say immunization is the best defense against influenza, which can inflict cough and high fever and lead to potentially lethal complications.
Each year, those symptoms become severe enough to hospitalize more than 200,000 people in the United States.
1. Flu can kill
The flu might not just keep you away from work or school. The consequences can be serious: hospitalization and sometimes death.
For about 200,000 people, it can lead to bacterial pneumonia and ear and sinus infections and worsen chronic conditions, including asthma and diabetes.
2. The flu vaccine can make you feel bad…
A vaccine will prompt the body’s immune system to kick into action. That stimulation can cause muscle aches and fever, mimicking an infection, said Dr. Charles Bailey, medical director of infection prevention and epidemiology at Saddleback Memorial in Laguna Hills.
“I got the flu shot this year and really had no symptoms whatsoever,” Bailey said. “I usually do feel a little under the weather for the next day or so. People should be aware it’s a possibility.”
Flu symptoms, however, will be much more severe. So that short-term, lousy feeling, “certainly shouldn’t discourage people from getting vaccinated,” he said.
3. … But it doesn’t give you the flu.
The viruses in flu vaccines are either inactivated or weakened. The inactivated viruses are incapable of causing an infection, and weakened viruses, used in the nasal mist, can cause infection only in the cooler temperatures inside the nose.
4. Hey, it’s contagious; take a sick day.
You can be infectious before you’re even aware you’re sick. Most adults are capable of transmitting the flu to others one day before symptoms appear, and they remain infectious for five to seven days after onset. Young children and people with weakened immune systems can infect others longer than that.
Flu viruses spread mainly by droplets sprayed when sick people cough, sneeze or talk. The droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are as far away as 6 feet. Less often, a person might get the flu by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it.
In addition to getting the vaccine, people should wash their hands frequently, cover their coughs and stay home when sick.
Who should get the vaccine?
It’s especially important for people who are:
• age 6 months through about 5 years
• age 50 and older
• immunosuppressed or who have asthma, cardiovascular (except hypertension), renal, hepatic, neurologic, hematologic, or metabolic disorders (including diabetes mellitus)
• pregnant or who will be during the influenza season
• residents of nursing homes and other chronic-care facilities
• morbidly obese (body-mass index of 40 or greater)
• health care workers
• roommates and caregivers of children younger than 5 and adults 50 and older