Influenza and the Flu Vaccine
Well it is officially fall which means football season, everything pumpkin flavored, and hopefully soon the weather will require a cozy sweater. Perhaps, most importantly, fall means it is time to get the seasonal Flu vaccine to lessen the risk for contracting that miserable and dangerous influenza infection.
The Flu is a viral respiratory tract infection that becomes active in the fall and winter and spreads from person to person via secretions from the respiratory tract of an infected individual. Droplets that contain the live virus float in the air and potentially land in the respiratory tract of humans where they thrive and multiply causing an acute ‘cold-like’ illness. Unlike a common cold caused by the adenovirus, the Flu causes very high fever, chills, and severe muscle aches.
A factor that enhances the contagiousness of the virus is its ability to survive in the droplets on inanimate objects such as door knobs, furniture, money, etc. for up to 8-10 hrs. If someone touches theses contaminated objects within this time frame then touches their nose, mouth, or eyes, they can become infected and ill. Therefore, if a cough or sneeze from an infected person permeates a room, it is important to wipe down objects in that environment with a disinfectant. The incubation period (time of exposure to time of illness) can be from 4-7 days.
Remember, one of the most common vectors for spreading the virus is hand shaking; so, we recommend using the fist bump when greeting people socially. Also, practice frequent and thorough hand washing and keep anti-bacterial hand lotion readily available.
No matter how careful and fastidious a person may be, during a brisk Flu season, exposure is likely to occur. Therefore, the Flu vaccine is universally recommended as safe and reasonably effective prevention. Everyone 6 months of age and older should seriously consider getting the Flu vaccine. The CDC and infectious disease experts highly recommend it for the very young, pregnant ladies, senior adults over 65, and persons with chronic disease and compromised immunity.
Recently, we experienced one of the worst flu seasons in the last 40 years resulting in approximately 900,000 hospitalizations and 80,000 deaths including 180 children. Sadly, 80% of the children that died did not receive the Flu vaccine.
The vaccine requires 2 weeks for full immunity to develop and the typical duration of immunity in the average person is 3-4 months. The month of October is prime time to get the vaccine and the CDC recommends that children who have never had the vaccine, should receive a booster injection several weeks after the initial injection.
There are several vaccines available this season and which one you get depends on your age and health status. There is a trivalent vaccine that offers protection against three strains (types) of the Flu virus and a quadrivalent providing protection against four viral strains. Both are effective but the latter obviously offers broader coverage.
There are two egg-free vaccines (Flucelvax and Flublock) for people with egg allergy. Unexpectedly, in addition to being quadrivalent, these vaccines appear to be 10-20% more effective than the traditional egg cultured vaccines. In addition to lacking egg protein, they also contain less preservatives and are supplied in pre-filled syringes that do not contain Latex.
Vaccine experts and the CDC recommend that people over 65 or people in poor general health, receive a quadrivalent vaccine. It may be wise to request one of the egg-free vaccines which are quadrivalent and possibly more effective.
The Flu vaccine is beneficial but not perfect. That is, if you get the vaccine, you may still get infected with one of the influenza viruses. However, vaccinated people who get the Flu, typically experience a shorter duration of illness with much milder symptoms and most importantly, there is reduced risk of potentially serious complications such as pneumonia, congestive heart failure, hospitalization, and even death.
Finally, getting vaccinated is being socially responsible because the more folks that do so, significantly reduce the spread of the disease in a community.
Remember, it is a scientific fact that the Flu vaccine cannot cause the Flu! So, come on everyone and be responsible to yourself and family as well as friends and neighbors. Get the Flu vaccine today!
Dr. Tippett is the founder of Comprehensive Quality Healthcare Providers located 1210 Commerce Dr. Suite 106, Greensboro, Ga. 30642. He can be reached at 706-510-3659. Visit his webpage at www.drtippett.com