20150930 flu season

The signs of Fall are all around us…pumpkin spice flavored EVERYTHING, leggings and riding boots in all the storefronts, and twinkling Christmas lights beginning to adorn the aisles of Hobby Lobby.  It seems we may even be getting those nice Fall temperatures in the coming days!  While October typically conjures up images of pumpkins, trick or treating, and great college football, the change of season should also remind us of an all too familiar foe…the influenza virus!

“The 2014-2015 flu season was just plain awful thanks to the “surprise” H3N2 strain of influenza.”

It may seem like just yesterday that everyone was talking about the “mutated” flu strain from last season, and you might be one of the thousands of Americans who got your flu shot last year and still found yourself suffering with fever, chills, and cough among other symptoms.  The 2014-2015 flu season was just plain awful thanks to the “surprise” H3N2 strain of influenza (if you want a quick refresher about how the flu virus shifts and drifts, click here).  The Center for Disease Control confirmed 146 pediatric deaths due to influenza during the 2014-2015 flu season compared to 111 the year before.  Recent studies indicate that flu vaccines can reduce a person’s risk of getting the flu by 50-60%, but last year, the flu vaccine was only about 13% effective at protecting against the circulating H3N2 strain.  So basically, last years flu vaccine missed the mark albeit by no fault of the dedicated scientist who do their best when it comes to predicting what strains of the flu virus will be circulating.

“The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Center for Disease Control strongly recommend that everyone 6 months and older receive a yearly flu vaccine.”

So that brings us to the flu season that is upon us.  With the mismatch between flu vaccine and circulating flu virus last season, people may wonder if it is worth it to get the vaccine this year. My answer…ABSOLUTELY!  The flu vaccine, while it is not 100% effective, is the best protection you can get from the flu, and people who get their flu vaccine and then still come down with the flu are typically less sick and ill for a shorter period of time.  All available flu vaccines this year will contain that pesky H3N2 strain of influenza A from last flu season in addition to another influenza A strain and at least one influenza B strain.  Here are the options that are available for the flu vaccine this year:

  • Traditional flu shot that is either trivalent (contains 2 strains of influenza A and 1 strain of influenza B) or quadrivalent (same strains as the trivalent plus an additional influenza B strain).  The shot is approved for everyone 6 months and older with a few exceptions including those people who have had prior allergic reactions to flu vaccines or those with a history of Guillian-Barre Syndrome (severe paralyzing neurologic illness).
  • Intranasal spray flu vaccine (Flumist) which contains 4 strains of influenza protection and is approved for those 2-49 years of age.  There are those in this age range that should not receive the intranasal flu vaccine including those children on aspirin therapy, children from 2-4 years of age with a history of asthma or wheezing in the prior 12 months, those that are immunosuppressed or care for someone who is severely immunosuppressed, and pregnant women to name a few.
  • An intradermal quadrivalent vaccine that is approved for those 18-64 years of age.  An intradermal vaccine uses a smaller needle and is injected into the skin rather than the muscle and could, therefore, cause less discomfort.
  • High-dose trivalent flu vaccine that is approved for those 65 and older.  This vaccine has 4 times the amount of antigen (which is the part of vaccines that produce an antibody response in the body) which will create a higher immune response.  The studies are still ongoing to see if higher immune response will provide greater protection from the flu.
  • And if you absolutely HATE needles and are 18-64 years of age, you are in luck as this year the FDA has approved one flu vaccine given through the use of a jet injector.  A jet injector is a device that uses a high-pressure, narrow stream of liquid to penetrate the skin as opposed to a needle.

As with any vaccine, make sure to discuss any underlying medical conditions or current medications with your doctor to decide which flu vaccine is right for you or your child.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Center for Disease Control strongly recommend that everyone 6 months and older receive a yearly flu vaccine.  It is impossible to predict when the flu season will begin (I actually diagnosed a case of flu in my office about 2 weeks ago), so I would encourage you to get your flu vaccine as soon as possible.  For this flu season, the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend one type of the flu vaccine over another…just get vaccinated!