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Health Tip: Flu Season is Beginning Already
October marks the start of flu season. Should you get ahead of the falling temperatures and get vaccinated this year? Absolutely, says Stacey A. Gorski, PhD, a biology professor who specializes in immunology and vaccinology at University of the Sciences.
“Vaccinations should help contain the spread of the disease and keep people healthy through the holiday season and throughout the winter,” said Gorski.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health there were 64 influenza-associated deaths last flu season and more than 31,800 cases of the virus in the state. These numbers are likely to be largely underestimations because they only represent laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza.
- As in years past, the 2016-17 influenza vaccines for the US will protect against three or four strains, depending on the type of shot you receive (trivalent or quadravalent), including two influenza A strains and one or two Influenza B strains. Like last year, this year’s flu vaccine will include the H1N1 ‘swine flu’ that has been circulating since 2009, In addition, a new strain of H3N2 is included that better reflects what has circulated more recently.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is not recommending use of the nasal spray version of the vaccine, FluMist, which had been primarily used for small children in the past, as it was demonstrated to be ineffective for the last three years. For those that are needle-averse, there will still be limited doses of FluMist available, or Afluria is available through a jet injector (although it is only approved for those 18 to 64 years old).
- Regardless of what type of vaccine is chosen, it is not possible to become sick with influenza from the vaccine. All of the recommended vaccines are only made with pieces of the virus.
Gorski said, although in previous years the vaccinations haven’t been as effective, it is too early to know if this year’s vaccine will fall into that category. The World Health Organization and CDC rigorously follow reports of flu-like illness year-round and believe the vaccines will be effective. When the vaccine is a good match for the season’s circulating strain, the CDC has found that a vaccine can reduce the risk of flu by about 50 to 60 percent.
Even if the virus mutates and the vaccine isn’t protective against this year’s strain, it is still good practice to get the vaccination because it is believed that vaccines can induce life-long antibodies. Thus, even if the vaccine isn’t as effective as it could be, it may very well protect you in the future if a new strain appears.
“A few years ago when the H1N1 ‘swine flu’ strain of the virus appeared, younger people were getting sick right and left, but older individuals who had been exposed to a similar virus that was circulating between 1920’s and 1950’s were not contracting the virus at the same rate. The older population was protected because they had generated antibodies in the past that were still continuing to protect them some 60-plus years later,” said Dr. Gorski. “Your immune system can remember a lot of bugs for a long time.”
Dr. Gorski is available for interviews regarding the flu virus and the 2016 vaccine. To schedule an interview with Dr. Gorski contact Jenna Pizzi at firstname.lastname@example.org or (215) 596-8864
Categories: Health Tip, Biology, Department of Biology, Misher College