Newswise – During the last flu season last year, thousands of people were hospitalized and 180 children – 80 percent of whom were not vaccinated – died according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC recently recommended that people receive flu shots at the end of October, at the beginning of the season, before the virus spreads. Infectious disease experts David Cennimo at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and Tanaya Bhowmick at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School discuss this year's flu season, vaccine efficacy and how to protect yourself.
How is the flu transmitted?
Cennimo: Influenza is spread by droplets – such as sneezing or coughing – as well as by contact with surfaces contaminated by the virus.
The CDC recommends preventive measures to prevent the spread of germs, such as avoiding contact with sick people, staying at home for at least 24 hours after a fever without medical intervention, covering the nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing, hands with Wash soap and water after using a handkerchief and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. People should also avoid gathering in public institutions when they are ill to minimize the risk of contracting others.
What burdens will the vaccine cover this year?
Cennimo: As in previous years, the flu vaccine will include both influenza A and B types. Some changes have been made this year: another variant of the H3N2 Influenza A strain and Influenza B has been added to hopefully bring the strains circulating this year better together.
Last year, the vaccine was a good match, but not great. The H1N1 component has performed well, but unfortunately we have seen many H3N2 cases that have not been treated in the vaccine. There was also a late increase in this area in cases of influenza B. The changes to the current vaccine show why this monitoring and revaluation is important. The overall efficacy of influenza A and B virus flu vaccine 2017-2018 is estimated at 40 percent – but remember that a vaccine that is 40 percent effective will still help many people.
Why is it important to get vaccinated against the flu?
Bhowmick: If you receive the vaccine, but receive a strain that is not included, you will not only be protected from the common flu viruses, but also from symptoms such as fever and pain. Instead of being out of service for a week, you may only be out for a few days. In addition, some people may be infected with the flu virus but have no symptoms. During this time, these people can still spread the virus to other people, especially to vulnerable populations such as the elderly, children and those with a weakened immune system, such as cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, people with HIV or lung disease. The vaccine prevents the virus from infecting others.
Can you get the flu from the flu vaccine?
Bhowmick: No. However, people should realize that the vaccine needs two weeks to be effective, so they can still catch the flu during that time. The vaccine exposes your body to a weakened form of the virus, which can trigger an immune response.
When is the best time for a flu shot?
Cennimo: The flu season lasts from October to the end of May, with the main activity being between December and February. The recommendation of the CDC to receive the vaccine by the end of October is appropriate. The effectiveness of the vaccine is approximately six months. So, if you get your flu shot in September and we have a late flu season, you're not well protected in those months. But if you delay the vaccine, chances are you will not get it.
Is the nasal mist vaccine as effective as an injection?
BhowmickFluMist, which can be administered to individuals 2 to 49 years of age, contains a live virus and is effective if administered properly. While the mist is a good alternative for people who do not like needles, injection is still the preferred method of delivery.