Next on the vaccine list is the Flu Vaccine. This is one of the most common vaccines, mostly because we get it every year throughout our life.
What is the Flu?
Influenza A or Influenza B are the viruses that cause the flu. The virus becomes epidemic annually in the winter months. Once you have contracted the virus, symptoms range from headache and fatigue, to fever and body aches. Most people contract the virus, spend a week or two feeling sick, and then recover completely. The very young, immunocompromised, or older in age patients are not able to fight off the virus as well. This can result in hospitalization and sometimes, ICU stays.
In addition, this virus has an incredible ability to mutate making it difficult for the immune system to fight it and for vaccine to be effective. This ability to mutate is the reason we occasionally hear about a particularly virulent strain, H1N1 (swine flu) and avian flu. These mutated strains have the ability to cause a much worse illness upon infection. The result is increased hospitalizations and death during theses epidemics.
The Flu Vaccine
Because of the viruses ability to change so frequently, a new vaccine is created every year. The vaccine is based on what strains are in highest quantities that year, and the most virulent strains in the area. It does not cover every strain out there and it also does not account for any strains that mutate after the vaccine has been developed. The biggest take away point here is that, even though you get the vaccine, you still can get the flu. You will only be protected against the strains in the vaccine that year. This does not meant that if you get the flu, the vaccine didn’t work. It means you were infected with a strain it did not cover.
There are two flu vaccines available in the US, inactivated or live. The most widely used vaccine is the inactive which is an intramuscular injection. The live one is an intranasal spray, but is not recommended of the 2016-2017 season. The vaccine is administered one time, ideally as soon as it is made available in October. The flu season lasts from November to February.
Who Should Get the Vaccine
If your are a healthy adult who knows your immune system will take care of the problem, you don’t necessarily need it. Just remember, while infected you can transmit the virus to those around you. If any of those people are very young, very old, immunocompromised, or have many medical problems, they will not be able to handle the virus as well.
The virus is approved for anyone >6 months. Those who are at high risk and have priority for the vaccine are the very young, the very old, immunocompromised, and pregnant patients.
Everyone in healthcare should also be vaccinated. Not because our immune systems won’t be able to take care of the virus, but because we will be exposing sick patients to the virus who could have very serious consequences from being exposed.