October 2008 - The failure of the flu vaccine to protect many Americans against the virus last year shouldn't prevent you from getting your annual flu shot this year.
Each year, health officials determine three viruses they think will be circulating in the community and develop a vaccine. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), two of the three virus strains last year were not good matches and the vaccine was only 44 percent effective in protecting Americans against the flu. Usually it's between 70 and 90 percent effective. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) updated all three strains for this year's virus with the hopes that it will provide better protection.
"Despite the numbers from last year, a flu shot is still your best protection against the flu," said Dr. Jeff Kalina, associate medical director of emergency medicine at The Methodist Hospital in Houston. "Since the season starts in November, it's important to get a shot as soon as possible because it takes two weeks to take effect."
For children who are afraid of needles, a nasal-spray flu vaccine has been proven to provide protection against strains of the flu. The flu virus is spread mainly from person-to-person when the infected person coughs or sneezes. However, you can also catch it by touching something with flu virus on it and then putting your hand to your nose or mouth. This is why it is especially important to practice good hand hygiene during flu season.
Between five and 20 percent of the population gets the flu every year. More than 200,000 people are hospitalized with flu-like symptoms and more than 35,000 people die from the flu every year. The Houston-area experienced a very bad flu season in 2004 because of a shortage of vaccine. This year there appears to be no shortage.
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"The elderly, and people with heart disease, kidney failure, diabetes, and HIV/AIDS are all in the high risk category for contracting the flu," Kalina said. "Influenza kills thousands every year, and what's sad is the illness is totally preventable. All you have to do is get a flu shot once a year."
However, there are groups who should not receive the vaccine. Those include people with a severe allergy to chicken eggs, people who have had a severe reaction to the vaccine in the past, children less than six months of age, and people with illness who have a high fever should wait until the symptoms lessen.
Many people who have a common cold, but think they have the flu, unnecessarily crowd emergency rooms during the winter. It's important to know the difference.
Source: Methodist Hospital, Houston