What is the Flu?
The FLU is a shortened term for influenza, a viral infection of the respiratory tract. FLU symptoms are similar to those of the common cold - fever, body aches, runny nose, sore throat and non-productive cough. Abdominal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea may occur in addition to the respiratory symptoms, especially in children. The FLU, however, is much more serious than the common cold. Symptoms are usually much more serious and cause greater discomfort and incapacitation which often leads to more serious illnesses such as pneumonia and death. An estimated 36,000 FLU deaths occur each year in the U.S. More than 90% of the deaths occurred among people 65 years or older.
Causes of the Flu
Two viruses, Influenza A and Influenza B, are responsible for most of the FLU outbreaks. They enter a person from direct contact with airborne droplets produced when infected persons cough or sneeze (especially in enclosed spaces). A person may also become infected from contact with objects contaminated by these droplets or after being touched by the infected persons. Influenza viruses have been found to survive on contaminated surfaces and objects between 2 to 8 hours, and are thus, highly communicable.
Incubation and Infection
A newly infected person is capable of infecting others for one day before symptoms develop and up to 5 days after being exposed to the flu virus. This short incubation period causes the FLU to spread among people very quickly. It only takes a few days for large populations to become infected, especially if people are in close contact with each other or share the same air space, e.g., enclosed rooms, elevators or buses.
Relapses and Occurrences
Because the FLU virus has so many different strains it is easy to get the virus even if you just had it. Any person who does not have antibodies to the particular FLU virus strain that he or she is exposed to is susceptible and can develop illness. People who have antibodies from a previous FLU may have enough antibodies to prevent them from becoming ill again, provided the virus they were previously exposed to is the same strain. For example, if a person was infected by an Influenza A, Wuhan strain, they would only be protected from Influenza A, Wuhan and not from other Influenza A strains, such as the Sydney strain or from an Influenza B strains.
The Flu Vaccine
How does it work?
The FLU vaccines consist of two strains of Influenza A and one strain of Influenza B killed viruses. When injected into your body, it causes your immune system to build antibodies to protect you from those strains of viruses. It also acts as a booster and increases your antibodies level, should you already have antibodies to those virus strains. The vaccine is formulated annually by the World Health Organization. They keep watch of the various FLU outbreaks that are occurring world wide and determine which strains would pose the greatest threat to our communities.
How often should you be vaccinated?
Every year. The vaccine is changed yearly. It is made specifically for the upcoming FLU season based on scientific research identifying which specific type of influenza strain will circulate that year. The vaccine you received earlier may not contain the same strains that are in the new vaccine. Also antibody levels produced by this vaccine appear to decline after six months. The annual vaccination helps to boost your antibody levels.
When should you get the vaccine?
If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, the optimal vaccination time is October to November. Flu season usually occurs during the months of December through March, however, the flu season can begin as early as October and last as late as May. It takes a minimum of two weeks for your body to build enough antibodies to protect you.
Will the vaccine make you sick?
The vaccine does not contain any infectious viruses so it cannot cause you to get the FLU. The most common side effect is a sore arm that will last 1-2 days. A few people may react to the immunization with low grade fevers and body aches which begin 6-12 hours after the vaccination. This may last for up to two days. The symptoms are usually not severe enough to cause a person to miss work.
Often people claim they get ill after the vaccination. CDC studies have shown that these illnesses are not caused by the vaccine. Most likely they were viral colds that people may have coincidentally been exposed to just prior to vaccination. There are over 200 strains of viruses that cause colds.
Pregnant women should check with their physician prior to receiving a flu shot. It does not have any effect on breast milk.
Who should be vaccinated?
• Anyone who wants to be protected from the FLU
• Persons 50 years or older
• Residents of nursing homes
• Adults or children who have chronic disorders of pulmonary or cardiovascular systems, including children with asthma
• Adults or children with chronic metabolic diseases such as diabetes or immunosuppression
• Health care workers
• Employees of nursing homes or home care providers
• Household members who live with people in any of the above categories
• Pregnant Women (Pregnant women or women trying to get pregnant should consult with their physician prior to getting the flu shot. Pregnant women should not receive vaccines administered through nasal sprays or any vaccine using live, attenuated Influenza Vaccine (LAIV)).
Who should NOT be vaccinated?
• Anyone allergic to chicken eggs
• Persons diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome
• Adults with acute febrile illnesses. They should wait until their symptoms have cleared.
• Persons who had a previous allergic reaction to the influenza vaccine.
Prevent the Flu from Hitting You!
Here are some personal health tips that can help protect you from infection during the Flu season:
• Avoid close contact with other people who are sick.
• If you are experiencing signs or symptoms of the flu, stay home from work.
• Use a tissue to cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.
• Frequent hand washing.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth after touching contaminated objects.
• Get restful sleep.
• Drink plenty of fluids.
• Make healthy food choices.
• Manage your stress appropriately.