By Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP
Flu season has begun and this year will be different from those past as the CDC has made multiple new recommendations and different options available for the public. Let’s answer your questions.
When does flu season begin and how long does it last?
Flu season has begun already. It typically starts in the Fall, and ends late Spring. So the range is described as October to May with it peaking December to March.
How bad will this flu season be?
It is difficult to predict, but already this early in the season we’ve had 2 flu related deaths reported in Nevada and the CDC is reporting multiple pneumonia deaths that could be related to the flu (MMWR report, Table III)
What is the flu? How can one die from it?
The flu is caused by a virus. Multiple strains of virus can cause the flu. The virus itself should not be lethal, however what it does to your immune system could put you at risk of infections and death. Pneumonia is the number one cause of flu related deaths. Secondly, it can exacerbate existing conditions such as asthma, seizures, even promote preterm birth, hence those who are pregnant or have preexisting medical conditions are urged to get vaccinated against the flu. Moreover those who qualify should get the pneumonia vaccine as well.
What does this year’s flu vaccine cover?
According to the CDC, the trivalent vaccine covers for these three strains of flu virus:
- A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus,
- A/Hong Kong/4801/2014 (H3N2)-like virus and a
- B/Brisbane/60/2008-like virus (B/Victoria lineage)
The Quadrivalent vaccine protects the above with the added B/Phuket/3073/2013-like virus (B/Yamagata lineage).
These vaccines are aimed at providing protection against the Swine flu, and some influenza A and B strains.
What about older individuals?
This year, those over 65 will have two options for their flu vaccine.
Fluzone High-Dose – a higher dose flu vaccine that will hopefully allow their immunity to protect against the flu longer
FLUAD – the trivalent flu vaccine with an adjuvant to stimulate more of an immune response.
What about the nasal spray vaccine?
The CDC does not recommend use of the nasal spray vaccine as it has not been show to be very effective, especially in children.
Who should get the flu vaccine?
All individuals 6 months old and older unless specified by their medical provider.
What if I’m allergic to eggs?
Most individuals allergic to eggs can still get the flu vaccine, but if the allergy to eggs is severe (anaphylaxis, angioedema, difficulty breathing), the CDC recommends notifying your medical provider and being in a facility to monitor you if you do get the flu vaccine.
Will I get the flu from the flu shot?
No. The flu vaccine has a “killed” version of the virus meaning its not an active virus (as opposed to a live attenuated vaccine, a weakened down version of it). A “killed” or “inactivated” vaccine merely has the pathogen particles to induce an immune response. Additionally, when one states they got the flu despite the flu shot it could be that the flu shot only protects against 3 – 4 strains and they were infected with a more rare strain not covered by the vaccine.
How effective is the flu vaccine?
The average effectiveness each year hovers around 60%.
I feel sick after the flu shot, why?
For some, the immune response that ensues can make one feel mildly ill, but should not resemble the flu. Those who state they got the flu “immediately” after receiving the shot, might have already been exposed and had not had a chance to produce immunity prior to their exposure.
What are symptoms of the flu? How is it different from a cold?
A cold comes on slower and less severe. Flu symptoms are more abrupt and can include:
Shortness of Breath
Are there medications to treat the flu? Will antibiotics work?
There are antiviral medications available, such as Tamiflu, to treat the flu. Antibiotics, however, will not work since the flu is not caused by a bacteria but rather a virus. However if a secondary bacterial infection takes over, antibiotics may be used.
How can I prevent getting the flu?
Besides vaccination, avoid being around those who are sick, and take good care of yourself. A balanced diet, exercise and sleep regimen can help boost your immune system.
Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network and Board Certified Family Physician