One of the most prevalent ailments that hits the United States hard every fall also happens to be one of the few sicknesses we don’t really have a good cure for: The Flu.
Williamson Medical Center epidemiologist S. Shaefer Spires, M.D., says influenza is just something the medical community has yet to completely figure out. And until they do, the best defense for the virus is a good offense.
“People compare the flu to a bacterial infection, which we can cure with antibiotics, but a virus is something we don’t have a good treatment for,” Spires said. “You are stuck with prevention. The vaccine is far from perfect, but by far is the best way to prevent the flu we have.”
Kelly Bennie, M.D., is a board-certified pediatrician with Harpeth Pediatrics in Franklin, and agrees with Spires that the flu vaccination is an imperfect vaccine but a vital part of warding off the nasty virus.
“The flu shot is definitely worth getting,” she said. “It does help prevent the infection. What’s also important to remember is that even if you do catch the flu, your symptoms should be milder if you’ve had the vaccine. In addition, children less than two-years-old, the elderly, pregnant women and those with serious medical problems are at highest risk to have complications from influenza such as ear infections, pneumonia, or hospitalization.”
Bennie cited an interesting statistic she read recently about the flu epidemic of 1918 where more people died from the flu than died in the war. Stanford University research states that the influenza pandemic of 1918 killed somewhere between 20 and 40 million people while only eight million died in World War I.
HOW IT WORKS
With the traditional season for the flu beginning in October and running through April, both Spires and Bennie recommend getting the flu vaccine now, because it can take about two weeks for your body to develop the immunity it needs.
“The flu vaccine stimulates the body’s immune response,” Spires said. “Your immune system sees the proteins that are in the vaccine and mounts a quicker and better response against the virus. Some people will say they feel bad after the vaccine, and a lot of times that means the vaccine is stimulating some immune response in your body, which is really what you want. Flu vaccines are made from inactivated viruses or with no flu virus at all and thus are not infectious. If someone says that happened to them, they were likely exposed to the flu before getting the vaccine or before the vaccine was able to take effect.”
THIS YEAR’S VACCINE
Each year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention works to prepare the appropriate flu vaccination based on the strands of the virus that are expected to be prevalent, but they have to start work in February to have the vaccine produced and in the hands of the providers by September, which is why the accuracy of the vaccination can vary from year to year.
Spires said the flu season in the southern hemisphere is used to predict what types of strands will be predominant in the United States.
“The season they just had in Australia was really bad,” Spires said. “They saw twice the number of deaths and illnesses as the year prior. But the good news is, the predominant strain is a good match with the flu vaccine we have this year.”
Infographic with advice on how to potentially avoid the flu.
Although many children have gotten very comfortable with receiving their flu prevention in the form of a mist that is put into the nasal cavity, Bennie says this year the flu mist won’t be an option.
“After studying the data from previous seasons, the CDC realized they could make it more effective, but that required them to start the culture over for the H1N1 strand,” she said. “They just started that process last year. It takes so long to make the vaccine that it won’t be ready until next year.”
Vaccination alone won’t keep you from getting the flu, although it will up your odds against it. In addition to being vaccinated, Bennie recommends paying close attention to your children during this flu season.
“The flu virus can survive in a room for 24 hours and is spread into the air by droplets from coughing and sneezing,” she said. “Also when a child wipes their nose on their sleeve or their hand, they spread the virus to everything they touch.”
So, it’s important when flu-like symptoms first appear, to keep yourself or your kids isolated even before you know if it’s the flu as a precautionary measure.
Bennie says school-age kids are the ones who pass it around the most because they are in close quarters with so many other children on a daily basis. Plus the older ones may go to school even though they are sick because they don’t want to get behind and the younger ones may not be the best at keeping their germs to themselves.
“The flu typically comes on very quickly, so it’s important for parents to keep kids home from school and any public places if they are showing any signs of the virus such as body aches, fever, coughing, sore throat, headache or a runny nose,” she said. “Air on the side of caution to see how the next 24 hours will go. Too many parents give their child some Tylenol and send them to school anyway and that is not a good idea during flu season.”
S. Shaefer Spires, M.D., is board certified in infectious disease and is the hospital epidemiologist at Williamson Medical Center. Kelly Bennie, M.D., is a board-certified pediatrician with Harpeth Pediatrics and is a credentialed physician at Williamson Medical Center. Her office can be reached by calling 615-771-2656.Share this Article