Each year, the flu vaccine is developed to provide immunity to the flu virus strains that are most prevalent and likely to cause illness. Those strains are identified by health experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other leading organizations, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Infectious Disease Society of America (ISDA).
To offer maximum immunity to circulating flu viruses, three flu strains are generally included in each year's single-vaccination formula (a trivalent vaccine). Very recently, a new vaccine was approved that has four strains (a quadrivalent vaccine).
The 2012--2013 seasonal influenza vaccine protects against:
* Strains of Influenza A
* Strains of Influenza B
Remember, even if the flu viruses included in an upcoming season are the same as those included the prior year, it is important to get vaccinated every year because a person's immunity to flu viruses declines over time. Also, the virus can undergo minor mutations from one year to the next.
The annual vaccination is necessary to provide maximum immunity to the current strains of the virus. The CDC has stated that the current flu vaccination is a good match to the strains of flu that are spreading this year.
Actually, two types of vaccines are available.
The traditional -- and still the most popular -- vaccine uses a "dead virus". Incidentally, one absolutely can not "get the flu" from a dead virus.
The other vaccine is created from a "live," but attenuated (weakened, somewhat inactivated), virus vaccine. This is the vaccine that is delivered as a nasal spray. It is approved for ages 2-49. This one should not be given to pregnant women. If you select the "live virus," please discuss this thoroughly with your physician or other healthcare provider.
You may also hear of two fairly new variations of immunizing with the "dead virus" vaccine.
One is using a higher-dose vaccine approved for people age 65 or older to help counteract a waning immune system in this older age group.
The other is a vaccine injected in the skin (intradermally) rather than in a muscle. A small dose goes a longer way here. It is approved for ages 18 to 64.
Your healthcare provider can help you decide about possibly using one of these alternative vaccines. Most will likely recommend the traditional "dead virus" vaccine given by needle in a muscle.
Whenever there is a significant threat of a new strain, such as a new "swine flu" virus, there may be additional instructions and even a recommendation for a separate second vaccine.
The flu is an unpredictable illness, with potentially life-threatening complications.
Over the past 30 years, flu-related deaths in the United States have ranged from a low of 3,300 to a high of 49,000 people annually. Those numbers depend on the strains circulating in a particular season, according to the CDC.
The H1N1 pandemic flu in 2009 (also known as the swine flu) resulted in more than 12,000 flu-related deaths in the United States -- in addition to those citizens who suffered serious health complications or died from the "seasonal" flu.
Up to 20 percent of Americans get the flu each year, and approximately 200,000 people are hospitalized due to flu, according to the American Academy of Family Practitioners.
The flu vaccine is recommended for all healthy people over 6 months of age.
Individuals at the highest risk for flu complications include seniors over age 65, young children, pregnant women and people with chronic conditions such as asthma, chronic lung disease, diabetes, or heart disease.
Some people should not be vaccinated without first talking with their doctor. If you have a severe allergy to eggs, have had a severe reaction to a past flu vaccination, or are currently sick with a fever, discuss the benefits and risks of the flu vaccine with your doctor.
Sometimes there are special rules for infants and children. Be sure to check this out.
You may have heard friends or family debate the effectiveness of a flu shot in preventing the flu or minimizing its symptoms. And, there's still the popular misconception that the flu shot may actually cause the flu.
The most important thing to remember is that after receiving a flu shot, it will take approximately two weeks to develop immunity. So if someone was exposed to the flu before vaccination, or is exposed to another flu-like illness, he or she may still get sick -- hence the myth that the flu shot can "cause the flu."
Some people may still get the flu after receiving a flu shot, but if this happens, it is usually a milder case with fewer complications. Again remember that a "dead virus" flu vaccine can not "give one the flu."
Some people may experience minor side effects from the flu shot such as:
* Soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given
* Low-grade fever
If these problems occur, they begin soon after the shot and usually last one to two days. Almost all people who receive influenza vaccine have no serious problems from it.
Health experts recommend that people schedule their annual flu vaccination as soon as vaccine is available. However, it's never too late to reap the benefits of a flu shot, even if it's not administered until later in the flu season.
Generally, the flu season "peaks" around January of each year, and lasts until late spring. Flu shots can most often be found at your local health department and pharmacies, as well as offices of physicians and nurse practitioners. Call for availability.
To learn more, visit www.dyersburgregionalmc.com and click on "Health Resources" and "Interactive Tools." There, you can take one of 20 quizzes on flu and vaccinations, including the Flu Quiz, Immunization Quiz, and Germs Quiz.
Remember that this information is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor, but rather to increase awareness and help equip patients with information and facilitate conversations with your physician that will benefit your health.
While a flu vaccine is the best protection against getting sick each flu season, these simple tips from the CDC can help reduce your risk for developing the flu -- and passing it to others.
* Avoid close contact -- Avoid close contact with people who are sick. And when you are sick, keep your distance from others to reduce the risk of spreading illness.
* Stay home -- If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. This helps prevent others from catching your illness.
* Cover your mouth and nose -- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
* Clean your hands -- Wash your hands often, with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.
* Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth -- Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.
* Maintain healthy habits -- Get plenty of sleep, exercise regularly, eat a nutritious diet and drink plenty of fluids.
Flu symptoms usually appear suddenly and can include:
* Fever over 102°F
* Chills and sweats
* Muscle aches, especially in your back, arms and legs
* Loss of appetite
The flu is generally not associated with a stuffy nose.