The United States experiences an epidemic of influenza during certain seasons every year. The number of influenza cases generally rises between October and May, so this period is known as “flu season.”
While flu season is something that most people know about, not everyone understands just how dangerous it can be. Deaths from the flu can be difficult to track, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that anywhere between 3,000 and 49,000 people die from the virus or complications caused by the illness every year. Influenza is also highly contagious, even when treated promptly. An estimated 111 million workdays are missed each year because of the flu.
Fortunately - the flu vaccine has shown to be an effective preventative measure. The CDC state that getting an annual flu vaccine is the best way to protect against the virus. The following are commonly asked questions (and answers) about influenza and its vaccines.
How Can I Get the Flu?
Influenza is thought to be spread through respiratory droplets. These can be transmitted through kissing, being near someone that has the virus while they are coughing or sneezing, or touching something that has the virus on it. Most people unconsciously touch their mouth and nose, so the virus is commonly transmitted from one person to another this way.
How Do I Know If I’m Infected?
In mild cases, flu and cold symptoms are very similar, so it can be tough to tell the difference. Mostly, symptoms are slightly more severe than cold symptoms and last longer than a week, which is the typical cold duration. Sore throat, fever, headaches, muscle aches, congestion, sneezing, and coughing are all common flu symptoms.
What Are the Possible Complications?
In severe cases, the flu can be deadly. It can cause complications such as pneumonia; multi-organ failure; and inflammation of the brain (encephalitis), the heart (myocarditis), and the muscles (rhabdomyolysis, myositis).
Can I Get the Flu from a Flu Vaccine?
Fortunately, this is just a myth. While some types of flu shots contain flu viruses, these viruses have been “inactivated,” which means that they cannot cause an infection. The nasal spray does contain live viruses, but these have been attenuated, or weakened, and cannot cause an infection either.
Who Should Get Vaccinated?
It’s recommended that every person should be vaccinated yearly, starting from six months of age. Vaccination is especially important for people who are at higher risk of complications, including:
- Pregnant women
- Seniors age 65 and older
- Those with chronic health conditions
- Individuals in nursing homes
- Obese individuals
- Kids younger than age five
It should be noted that not all types of flu vaccination are recommended for children younger than age four or adults older than 65.
Why Are There Warnings for People Who Are Allergic to Eggs?
The most common version of the flu vaccine is made using chicken eggs. This means that the vaccine can cause the same allergy symptoms as eggs. For those who have an allergy but still wish to receive the vaccine, there are now a few alternatives available at special request.
How Many Types of Flu Does a Vaccine Cover?
There are three types of flu that affect humans, labeled A, B, and C. The most common flu vaccine is a “trivalent” vaccine, meaning that it protects patients from three flu viruses: two influenza A viruses (H1N1 and H3N2) and an influenza B virus. The vast majority of flu cases involve the three types covered with a trivalent vaccine.
How Often Should I Get Vaccinated?
Getting vaccinated every year provides the best protection. Flu viruses are constantly evolving, so the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) develop a new series of vaccines each year. These are developed over a period of about eight months, after scientists analyze many different strains of influenza that have been recently circulating in different countries.
Should I Get the Shot or Use the Nasal Spray?
As an alternative to a shot, a nasal spray is also available. However, the CDC recommends that patients choose the shot over the vaccine this year. Data compiled and researched from 2013 to 2016 show that the nasal spray was not as effective as the shot.
What Are the Side Effects of the Vaccine?
Side effects are rare and vary from person to person. More common side effects may include muscle soreness, inflammation at the injection site, and aches. They are known to go away in a few days or less. In some individuals, allergic reactions such as hives, difficulty breathing, swelling in the face, and accelerated heart rate may occur.
Flu season is right around the corner! We urge you and your loved ones to protect yourselves by getting vaccinated. Contact us today to set up your appointment!
"Fact Sheet: Influenza (Seasonal)." World Health Organization. World Health Organization, Mar. 2014. Web. 19 Sept. 2016.
"Influenza Virus Vaccine Safety & Availability." U.S. Food and Drug Administration. U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 25 Nov. 2015. Web. 19 Sept. 2016.
"Misconceptions about Seasonal Flu and Flu Vaccines." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 31 Aug. 2016. Web. 19 Sept. 2016.
"Types of Influenza Viruses." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 Sept. 2016. Web. 19 Sept. 2016.