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Happy 2017 National Influenza Vaccination Week!

While many of us picture the “flu” as missing work or school and watching old re-runs of The Price is Right while drinking tea, it is actually a very dangerous illness that can sometimes cause death. It is extremely important to get your flu vaccine.

Oftentimes, flu strains appear to have shifted from what was predicted. Unfortunately, predicting exactly what flu strains will be circulating in a given year is an inexact science, which can greatly impact the effectiveness of flu vaccines. Below is the latest information from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) surveillance data regarding the current flu season so far. Remember, this is early information and will likely evolve as the flu season progresses.

This year, quadrivalent and trivalent influenza vaccines will be administered. This has changed since last year, when the live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV4) was recommended for use. It ultimately was ineffective because the flu shifted and evolved from what the CDC/WHO had predicted.

These shifts can happen for a multitude of reasons. Unlike other viruses like measles, mumps and polio, which only require one injection, the flu virus evolves constantly. Vaccines work by readying the body with the antibodies it needs to fight off a particular illness before it’s contracted. The flu, from person to person, evolves as a direct response to these antibodies during a process called antigenic drift. Any flu mutations in the flu virus allow some part of it to escape the defenses of the antibodies in the vaccine. This mutation will make more copies of itself and then may spread to other individuals, causing a change in this year’s strain of the flu.

Annual influenza vaccination is still the best tool for prevention of influenza, even if the vaccine is not a perfect match to all of the circulating influenza strains.

Flu FAQs

According to the CDC, it is estimated that every year in the United States 5% to 20% of the population will get the flu and more than 200,000 people will be hospitalized from flu-related complications. The number of annual deaths from influenza varies widely depending upon the intensity of outbreaks in any given year. Over a period of 30 years between 1976 and 2006, yearly flu-related deaths have been estimated at a range of 3,000 to as high as 49,000 people during the most severe flu season.

What is seasonal influenza (flu)?

The flu is caused by the influenza virus and is a contagious respiratory illness. The flu can cause severe illness and life-threatening complications in some people, with children under the age of 5 and adults over age 65 most at risk.

The flu season usually starts in the fall and peaks during the winter months (i.e. December through February).

How is the flu contagious?

The flu can easily be spread from person to person through respiratory droplets when someone coughs or sneezes and can occur from up to six feet away. The droplets may survive for some time on various surfaces. Unsuspecting individuals may become infected from contacts with these surfaces. If you are infected with the flu you can spread it to others as early as one day before your symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick. Children may pass the virus for longer than seven days.

Symptoms usually begin one to four days after the virus enters your body.

What are symptoms of the flu?

Fever, although not all people with the flu will have a fever

Cough

Sore throat

Nasal congestion

Muscle or body aches

Headaches

Fatigue

Some, especially children, may experience vomiting and diarrhea

Who are at high risk for flu complications?

People 65 years and older

Children, especially under two

People with chronic health conditions

How can I protect myself and my family from the flu?

The most important step for protecting yourself each year is to get the flu vaccine. The flu vaccine is recommended for most people with the exception of infants under six months of age. Note that the vaccine is not a substitute for common-sense precautions such as frequent hand-washing, staying home from school or work when sick and avoiding contact with those who are ill.

Why the flu vaccine is needed annually?

As discussed above, flu viruses are constantly changing, so the vaccines need to be updated from one flu season to the next. Also a person’s immunity from the vaccine declines over time, so an annual vaccine is recommended to keep your immune system protected.

Where can I get the flu vaccine?

Flu vaccine is offered through most primary care providers, the health department and retail services, such as your local pharmacy.

What if I get the flu?

Seek prompt medical attention. The early use of antivirals in the treatment of influenza has shown to be effective. Antivirals are an important second line of defense, particularly for those at high-risk for complications from influenza. Two neuraminidase inhibitor antiviral medications are recommended for use in the United States—oseltamivir (Tamiflu®) and zanamivir (Relenza®).

Treatment works best when started within the first 48 hours of illness and can shorten the duration of symptoms and reduce the risk of severe complications and death. Treatment with antiviral medications is recommended for patients with influenza who are hospitalized; have severe, complicated or progressive illness; or are at higher risk for influenza complications.

For more information about the flu and flu vaccine contact the experts at Cogency at solutions@cogencyteam.com.

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