Can you believe it is October? College football is in full swing (Gig’em Aggies), pumpkin spice abounds, and Christmas decorations are already popping up in stores. You know what else that means? Flu season is here!! You might be thinking…already?? Unfortunately, there have already been several cases of the flu in my office in the past few weeks and there have been small pockets of flu around the US (Aggieland- College Station, TX for those non-Aggies- actually had a flu outbreak just a few weeks ago). Here are your reminders for protecting yourself and your family from flu this year…and listen up, there is a change that all those kiddos will likely not be too happy about!
These numbers should serve as a reminder that cannot be stated enough that flu claims the life of otherwise healthy children each and every year here in the US.
We have not had a “bad” flu season in a few years, which typically means that we are due for a more severe season. Last years flu season was just plain strange…I really did not see much flu in my office until late January, but then the flu season lasted much longer than your typical year (I think I was diagnosing flu into May). There were 85 pediatric deaths in the US from the flu during the 2015-2016 season which, while still tragic and far too many, was less than the prior two seasons which saw 111 deaths during the 2013-2014 season and 148 deaths during the 2014-2015 season. These numbers should serve as a reminder that cannot be stated enough that flu claims the life of otherwise healthy children each and every year here in the US.
It is important to point out that the flu mist was in no way harmful…it just didn’t do its job well!
So here is the “big news” for this flu season…the flu mist, the version of the flu vaccine that is a nasal spray, is not recommended this year. If your children are anything like mine, there were a few tears shed about this news! Each and every year, scientist go back to evaluate how effective the flu vaccine was in preventing people from getting the flu. During most flu seasons, the flu shot is 50-60% effective in preventing the flu. However, when looking at the 3 prior flu seasons and flu mist spray, minimal if any efficacy was found. It is important to point out that the flu mist was in no way harmful…it just didn’t do its job well! So rather than recommending a vaccine that is not doing what it is intended to do, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) along with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have recommended that children only receive the flu shot this year.
Everyone 6 months of age and older should receive a yearly flu vaccine. If your child is 8 years old and younger and it is their first season to receive a flu vaccine, they will need two doses of the flu vaccine that are at least 4 weeks apart. There are two versions of the flu shot available this year: a trivalent vaccine that will protect against three strains of flu virus (two strains of influenza A and one strain of influenza B) as well as a quadravalent vaccine that will protect against four strains of flu (two strains of influenza A and two strains of influenza B). While the quadravalent vaccine does contain that one additional strain of flu protection, I would not wait to get vaccinated if only the trivalent vaccine is available in your area…protection from 3 strains of flu virus is far better than protection from none!
Now, the question I get asked each and every year, “Can the flu shot give me the flu?” The answer is absolutely “NO.” Think of the influenza virus as a Tootsie pop….the hard candy outside is the outer shell of the virus which cannot cause illness while the tootsie roll inside is the actual virus that can make you sick. Scientist create the flu vaccine by a process which is able to “kill” the tootsie roll part but leave the outer shell. When you body sees this outer shell through a flu vaccine, your amazing immune system acknowledges it as “foreign,” and therefore, your white blood cells create a defense artillery against this shell. Since there is no tootsie pop center present, you cannot get the actual flu virus. So, if you come into contact the with actual flu virus in the future, which will have that same outer shell like the tootsie pop, your body is able to recognizes it and your wonderful white blood cell artillery coming swooping in to eliminate the virus so that you do not get sick. Yeah…our bodies are pretty amazing. As with any vaccine, there can be very mild side effects from the flu shot. The most common reactions are discomfort or redness at the injection site and possibly mild fever for 24-48 hours.
As anyone who has suffered from the flu can attest, it can be miserable! While the flu vaccine is not perfect, it really is your best protection from the flu virus. While most of the country is only seeing sporadic cases of influenza virus at this time, that will likely quick change in the near future. You can never predict when flu season will “hit” so make sure that your family gets their flu vaccines as soon as possible.