Influenza Q & A
Each year, we’re reminded through TV, radio and print ads to get our flu shot. However, less than half of adults in the United States got a flu vaccine last year, according to Dr. Elaine Fisher, associate dean and director of nursing for the Byrdine F. Lewis School of Nursing and Health Professions.
Fisher and other healthcare professionals believe the flu shot plays an important role in reducing the spread of the flu. Experts at Georgia State explain flu shots, flu treatments and more.
Q: Why should someone get a flu shot?
A: The flu shot is our best defense against the flu. It’s the first line of prevention against the flu, and prevention is always best. It’s helpful if everyone gets the flu shot because this limits exposure and transmission of the flu. You’re not catching it, and people aren’t spreading it, Fisher said.
The flu shot is very effective. It’s recommended for children (especially six months old to eight years old) to the elderly, said Dr. Myra Carmon, associate professor in the Byrdine F. Lewis School of Nursing and Health Professions.
Medical professionals are very concerned about the following people getting the flu:
- Young children, because their immune systems aren’t mature and they can’t receive the flu vaccine until they reach six months old. This leaves them susceptible to the flu if anyone around them has it. Carmon recommends parents, day care workers and teachers get the flu shot.
- Elderly people (over 65 years old) because their immune systems are declining, Carmon said.
- People with chronic diseases, such as asthma, heart disease, kidney disease and compromised immune systems, Fisher said.
If a healthy person comes in contact with someone who is vulnerable to the flu, he or she is putting the vulnerable person at risk. A healthy person can fight the flu and be OK, but high-risk individuals don’t have the ability to fight the flu. Getting a flu shot is the socially correct thing to do. The flu is very contagious, and a person can transmit the flu virus a day before he or she shows any symptoms and up to five to seven days after he or she has gotten the flu, Fisher said.
The flu shot can also decrease the severity of flu symptoms and reduce or prevent your need to go to the doctor or be admitted to the hospital, Carmon said.
In addition, the flu shot can provide better protection against a new potential epidemic virus and boost your immune system to a stronger level for better fighting, said Dr. Sang-Moo Kang, a professor in the Institute for Biomedical Sciences.
Q: Why do we need a flu shot every year?
A: When you first meet the flu virus, your body builds antibodies against it. Those antibodies don’t stay high for long, otherwise your body would be overloaded with immune response all the time. When you get an annual flu shot, it boosts your immunity back up to be able to fight and be active if you meet the virus, Fisher said.
Q: Why is getting a flu shot still effective after early fall?
A: Better late than never! While the peak flu season is in February, flu cases occur throughout the year, even in May and June. We’re not close to hitting maximum flu season yet, Fisher said.
You can get a flu vaccine anytime, but it’s recommended to start early in October so your body can start building immunity against the flu, Carmon said.
Q: Can you describe the difference between the flu shot and nasal spray flu vaccine?
A: The flu shot contains an inactivated flu virus, not a live virus. It contains the proteins of the virus, which activate the body’s immune response against the flu, Fisher said. Adults age 65 and older are advised to get the high-dose flu shot because it contains more antibodies and will boost their immunity more, Carmon said.
The nasal spray vaccine contains an attenuated virus, which means the virus is alive but it doesn’t have the ability to produce the disease. When your immune system meets the live virus, it becomes activated very quickly. This vaccine is recommended for people ages two to 49. People who take the nasal spray shouldn’t be around anyone who is vulnerable to the flu for five to seven days, Fisher said.
The nasal spray vaccine is not recommended for people with asthma, chronic diseases, compromised immune systems or pregnant women, Carmon said.
This year, the nasal mist is recommended for children ages two to eight, Carmon said.
There are different types of flu vaccines available, based on your provider’s supply from the manufacturer:
- This year’s trivalent vaccine contains three different strains of flu: H1N1, H3N2 and B influenza virus.
- This year’s quadrivalent vaccine contains four different strains: H1N1, H3N2 and two types of B influenza viruses.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) monitors the 10 most common types of flu and predicts which ones we’ll see during the flu season. These are the strains included in vaccines.
Flu vaccines are most commonly made using an egg-based manufacturing process, but unless you have a severe reaction to eggs, your risk of having a reaction to the flu vaccine is low. Tell your medical provider if you have egg allergies, and the provider will monitor you after you receive the flu vaccine, Fisher said.
Q: How long does it take the flu shot to take effect? Why?
A: It takes about two weeks after vaccination to provide protection against the flu, according to the CDC.
It takes this long because your body is building an immune response against the flu, Fisher said.
Q: What is Tamiflu, and when should someone get this treatment? How available is this treatment?
A: For many people, the flu can run its course. But people who are vulnerable to the flu should get Tamiflu as a treatment. Tamiflu, an antiviral that combats the viral infection, lessens the severity of the flu and the length of time a person suffers from it. The supply of Tamiflu is plentiful, Fisher said.
Tamiflu must be prescribed by a physician. A doctor will first test you to make sure that you have the flu, Carmon said.
Q: Can there be a shortage of flu shots/vaccines?
A: This year, manufacturers made 151 to 156 million doses of the flu vaccine, according to the CDC. There’s plenty of flu vaccine right now, and Fisher believes this will be a sufficient quantity because many people won’t get the flu vaccine unless they think this will be a bad flu season.
Q: Is stockpiling vaccines or medication for the flu effective?
A: Stockpiling vaccines doesn’t help because they can become outdated. There are different subtypes and strains of the flu, and the flu vaccine must change each year because new strains become prevalent, Fisher said.
Q: What kind of impact does the flu have on productivity and income?
A: If a person stays at home sick and doesn’t have sick leave pay, they’ll lose income. However, Fisher advises anyone with the flu or flu symptoms to stay at home.
Many people don’t like to take days off, but it’s important not to come to work when you’re sick. This prevents you from spreading the flu to your co-workers and causing others to miss work as well, Fisher said.
When a person who has the flu coughs or sneezes, droplets can travel about six feet and transmit the flu to others. There’s a huge risk of spreading the flu through the air and surface contact. A person shouldn’t come to work until his or her fever is down for 24 hours without having to take Tylenol or other medications, Fisher said.
A person with the flu could miss an average of five to seven days of work if he or she stayed home the entire time they were contagious, Carmon said.