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Everyone knows that the best way to avoid the flu is by getting an annual flu shot. But a trip to your physician every autumn for the vaccination can help you avoid much more than the dreaded flu bug. “At the doctor’s office, the focus is on you and what is going on with your health. This is your time to talk about concerns to improve your well-being beyond the flu season,” says Jorge Parada, MD, MPH, the medical director of the infection prevention and control program at Loyola University Health System. A retail store that offers the flu shot cannot give you expert medical advice from your physician that knows you and your medical history. “You trust your store employee to help you locate items you want to buy, not to diagnose what’s causing a persistent symptom, schedule other annual health maintenance exams such as mammograms or offer expert medical advice.”
When is the best time of year to get the flu shot? The official flu season is October 1 through March 31, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Getting the flu shot in October gives you the best chance of avoiding the flu this year,” says Parada. “If you get your flu shot in the beginning of September, you may start running out of infection immunity by February or March, when the virus is still around.” The flu season traditionally peaks in late December to early February, he notes. Loyola is planning to distribute more than 30,000 flu vaccinations this season.
“Remember that it takes up to two weeks after the flu shot for the full effect to kick in,” says Parada. “And if you were exposed to the flu around the time you get your flu shot, you may still experience the flu but don’t blame the flu shot.”
Just like with other infectious diseases such as polio, mumps, chicken pox and whooping cough, the participation of everyone in receiving vaccinations is critical to stopping the virus. “When people are universally vaccinated, those infections are largely eliminated,” says Parada. “It may not sound sexy but it is everyone’s civic responsibility to protect themselves and their community.”
Millions of dollars are lost each year during the flu season due to missed days of work, expense of medications and the like. And many lose their lives due to the flu. “The most vulnerable members of our society, the very young and the elderly or chronically ill, and pregnant women, are hit the hardest by the flu,” says Parada.
For 2014, the flu vaccination composition is the same as in 2013. The 2014-2015 trivalent influenza vaccine is made from the following three viruses:
• an A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus;
• an A/Texas/50/2012 (H3N2)-like virus;
• a B/Massachusetts/2/2012-like virus.
It is recommended that quadrivalent vaccines containing two influenza B viruses contain the above three viruses and a B/Brisbane/60/2008-like virus.
There are hundreds of varieties of the flu. “The flu virus is mutating all the time but health professionals track what happens in other countries that experience the flu season earlier and identify the primary strains,” says Parada.
Source: Loyola University Health System