As we enter December, the one thing that can put a damper on this festive time of year is the seasonal flu.
This year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is urging everyone aged six months and older to get their yearly flu shot. It is the best way to protect against the flu and its serious complications.
If you are an employer you should remind your staff to get a flu shot to reduce their chances of getting sick and reduce absenteeism in the workplace. If you are an individual, you should get a shot as it’s easy, convenient and cheap.
The flu is a serious illness, and each year new strains surface and you never know which one might affect you worse than others. Most people who get the flu feel very ill for a time, including nausea, vomiting, headache and fever. While most people fully recover, doctors cannot predict who will get really sick.
Those who are likely to get very ill and run the risk of complications, including hospitalization and death, are: people 65 and older; very young children; people with chronic health problems, such as asthma, heart disease and diabetes; and those with weakened immune systems.
That said, even younger, healthy people can get seriously ill.
There are lots of reasons to get a flu vaccine each year.
• Vaccination can keep you from getting sick from flu. Protecting yourself from flu also protects the people around you who are more vulnerable to serious flu illness.
• Flu vaccination can help protect people who are at greater risk of getting seriously ill from flu, like older adults, people with chronic health conditions and young children (especially infants younger than six months who are too young to get vaccinated).
• Flu vaccination also may make your illness milder if you do get sick.
• Vaccination can reduce the risk of more serious flu outcomes
Recent studies by CDC researchers and other experts indicate that flu vaccine reduces the risk of doctor visits due to flu by about 60% among the overall population when the vaccine viruses are like the ones spreading in the community.
A flu vaccination does not guarantee protection against the flu. Some people who get vaccinated might still get sick.
In a typical flu season, flu complications – including pneumonia – send more than 200,000 people to hospital in the U.S. Death rates linked to flu vary from year to year, but have gone as high as 49,000 deaths in a year, the CDC says.
How effective the vaccine is in preventing the flu depends on how good a match it is to the strains of flu virus circulating that year. Most years, the vaccine is between 40 and 60% effective, according to the CDC.
Flu vaccines cause antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after vaccination. These antibodies provide protection against infection with the viruses that are in the vaccine.
Last year, the vaccine offered little protection against the most common flu strain that circulated, an H3N2 virus. That happened because the virus that experts predicted to be the predominant one changed, and the new H3N2 virus was not included in the vaccine.
As a result of this, the 2014-2015 flu season was more severe than usual, especially for the very old and very young. As a result, there was a record amount of hospitalizations for flu in the elderly population.
This year’s vaccine contains the new H3N2 strain. But the vaccine also includes two other strains that are expected to be around, as well.
It’s expected that there should be an ample supply of vaccines since drug companies are expected to produce up to 179 million doses.
The vaccine is available in a variety of forms:
• A typical injection.
• A nasal spray.
• An ultra-thin needle, called an intradermal flu vaccine.
• People allergic to eggs can get an egg-free vaccine.
• A high-dose vaccine that is reserved for the elderly.
One myth that we need to bust here: You cannot get flu from a flu vaccine. That said, some people do experience some side effects, such as a mild fever and body aches that may mimic flu symptoms.
Also, after vaccination, it usually takes about two weeks for the body to develop protection against the flu.