I recently wrote a health tip about the importance of getting the flu vaccine each fall season [insert link please] because it is our only real defense against the virus. We are getting closer to a master vaccine for these wiley viruses (meaning one day we will be able to get a flu vaccine to last a lifetime), but until then, we have to get a new injection each fall/winter season. This is because the virus is so changeable – we have to teach our immune systems to recognize each new strain. Some years we guess correctly regarding which strain will dominate the local human population, and provide accurate vaccine protection. And some years, like this one, we guess incorrectly.
In 2017, it looks as if the predominant flu strain is H3N2. And the vaccines we’re using in the US this season were tried in Australia during their flu season. Unfortunately they were estimated to be only 10% effective there!
What this means is that we all should take extra precautions to avoid transmission of the virus, because the vaccine is unlikely to provide much protection. Our main weapons are therefore (according to the CDC – Centers For Disease Control and Prevention):
- Avoiding close contact. Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
- Staying home when you are sick. If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. This will help prevent spreading your illness to others.
- Covering your mouth and nose. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.
- Washing your hands. Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.
- Disinfecting contaminated surfaces. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill.
- Keep your immune system strong. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.
If you do get the flu, are there medicines to make it go away faster?
Yes, there are are three FDA-approved, anti-viral medications that can reduce the severity of the flu and reduce it’s duration by a day or two.
- oseltamivir (available as a generic version or under the trade name Tamiflu®),
- zanamivir (trade name Relenza®), and
- peramivir (trade name Rapivab®).
If you are in a “high risk group” for flu complications, you should see your doctor about anti-viral medications (they are only available by prescription). But hurry, these medications only help if you take them within 48 hours of symptom onset.
Who is at high risk for flu complications?
- Children younger than 2 and adults over 65
- Pregnant women
- Nursing home residents
- Native Americans
- Those with medical conditions that put them at higher risk for flu complications (including heart disease, lung disease, asthma, and a long list of others.)
This may be an especially dangerous flu season, my friends. So take steps to protect yourself and your loved ones, especially those at higher risk for flu complications.
Chasing Seasonal Influenza – The Need for a Universal Influenza Vaccine – NEJM
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