Influenza, more commonly known as the flu, is a serious illness that affects almost everyone at some stage during their lifetime. Every year, millions of people come down with the flu. While rare, sometimes the flu can be so serious that some need to be hospitalized.
While the flu affects individuals differently, special precautions such as taking the flu vaccine, staying hydrated, taking recommended supplements, and maintaining proper hand hygiene can help reduce the incidence of coming down with the flu this season.
How does the flu vaccine work?
Two weeks after taking the flu shot, your body develops antibodies (a protein that combines chemically with foreign substances such as bacteria, viruses) that provide protection against certain flu viruses. Traditional flu vaccines (called “trivalent” vaccines) provide protection against the following three flu viruses:
- Influenza A (H1N1) virus
- Influenza A (H3N2) virus
- Influenza B virus
The latest 2017-2018 flu vaccine recommendations to follow
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends taking injectable influenza vaccines (which include both inactivated influenza vaccines and recombinant influenza vaccines) during 2017 and 2018.
The nasal spray flu vaccine, which is a live attenuated influenza vaccine (a vaccine created by reducing the virulence of a virus, but still keeping it viable or alive) should not be used during the 2017-2018 flu season.
Clinicians are also starting to administer flu shots as early as the end of October. While the CDC recommends that individuals get vaccinated by the end of November, the flu season can last the entire fall and winter period. As long as flu viruses are circulating, vaccinations can be taken even in January, or later.
What if I’ve already gotten the flu this year?
Even if you already contracted the flu this year, you may still benefit from getting a flu shot. The vaccine protects against three or four different flu viruses, depending on which flu vaccine you get. Speak to your doctor if you have any concerns or want to learn more.
Who should take the flu vaccine?
Certain people are at a higher risk of developing serious flu complications. The flu is more likely to lead to hospitalization or even death for these high-risk individuals, but taking the flu vaccine may provide added protection. The following individuals are considered high-risk:
- Children younger than 5 years old
- Pregnant women
- Elderly people, 65 years and older
- People living in nursing homes or long term care facilities
If individuals have the following chronic health conditions, they are also considered high-risk and would benefit from taking the flu shot:
- Neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions [including disorders of the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerve, and muscle such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy (seizure disorders), stroke, intellectual disability, moderate to severe developmental delay, muscular dystrophy, or spinal cord injury].
- Chronic lung disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cystic fibrosis
- Heart disease, such as congenital heart disease, congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease
- Blood disorders, such as sickle cell disease
- Diabetes mellitus
- Kidney disorders
- Liver disorders
- Weakened immune system due to disease or medication, such as people with HIV or AIDS, or cancer, or those on chronic steroids
- People younger than 19 years of age who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy
- People with extreme obesity
Even if you get vaccinated and practice good health habits, there is a possibility that you could still get the flu this season. The ability of the flu vaccine to protect a person against the flu depends on many factors, which include one’s age, medical history, and the “match” between the viruses used to make the vaccine and those airborne and circulating within a community. It is important to seek medical advice if you develop flu symptoms, so that you and your family can have a happy and healthy winter season.
Author: Simitha Singh Rambiritch