This year’s flu season may be unique, for several different reasons. For one thing, this is the first time that doctors and federal health officials are urging almost everyone (not just the people in high-risk groups) to get vaccinated. In addition, a particularly virulent strain of the flu, which is most dangerous to the elderly, might circulate this year. There have already been cases of this flu-bug cropping up, in isolated numbers, in the Midwest. Because of this new concern, it is important for you educate yourself about what this year’s flu season could bring.
Here are five things that you should know about this year’s flu season:
1) This year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are highly recommending the flu vaccine for everyone over the age of 6 months. The studies are saying that the more people who are vaccinated, the less that the flu circulates. This is based on the fact that when “healthy people” are protected, it will better protect those that are at the highest risk for flu complications. This is in regards to the elderly, babies younger than 6 months, pregnant women and those with chronic medical problems. Doctors are saying that, “Everyone needs to get it” and that there should be more than enough supply this year. As a result, there will be no “rationing” the vaccine to only certain groups of people, as in years past. Incidentally, if you, or your kids, don’t like needles, there is even a nasal-spray that can be administered, in place of a flu shot. If you are between the ages of 2 and 49, you can get the nasal-spray vaccine.
2) This year, you only need one vaccine. Last year was different; people had to stand in line twice to get full protection from the flu: once for the typical seasonal flu and then a second time for the swine flu. This year, the primary vaccine provides protection against the swine flu (H1N1), as well as two other flu strains. The only exception to this is children who are under the age of nine who are receiving their first flu vaccine. They will need two flu shots, a month apart from each other, to properly boost their immune system.
3) It’s okay to get the vaccine now, in fact, the sooner the better. This is one of the first years that doctors have been administering the vaccinations as early as the middle of August. Don’t delay, it’s important to get in as soon as possible.
4) It is predicted that we could be in for a nasty strain of flu this season. One strain of flu expected to circulate is the H3N2. This year’s vaccination protects against it, as well as H1N1 and a Type B strain of flu. It has been reported that the H3N2 virus tends to make older people very ill, often resulting in death. That’s why when H3N2 is the dominant flu virus; more people die from it. This is because the elderly are particularly vulnerable to getting sick from other people around them who haven’t been vaccinated and are already infected. The elderly person’s immune system is simply not able to properly combat the H3N2 virus.
5) A new high-dose vaccine is available for those who are age 65 and older this year. As people age, their immune system becomes weaker and more susceptible to attacks. This vaccine is called Fluzone. It is a high-dose version of the vaccination that most people receive. It has four times the usual amount of antigen, which is the part of the vaccine that causes your body to produce the antibody that protects you from that particular flu virus. It’s important to note that health officials are still studying whether more antigens in vaccine actually leads to better protection. That has not been scientifically determined yet. The Center for Disease Control says that is a personal choice, as to whether you want to try it or not. In addition, some local doctors and certain states are not yet providing the high-dose vaccine this year. It might still be available at some local pharmacies; however, and may even be covered by some insurance companies.
Now is the time to start strengthening your immune system. Start with a good multivitamin and start getting into the habit of washing your hands.