Every year at this time, we hear it's time to get the flu shot. After last year's vaccine missed the mark, how does the Center for Disease Control regain the public's confidence that their predictions will hold up this year? With the facts.
According to Dr. Jay Zimmermann, a primary care physician at Penn State Hershey Medical Group Elizabethtown, the annual vaccine may offer protection regardless of which strains it contains, although this year's vaccine appears to be a good match.
"There is some similarity between the strains and your body responds to the different parts of the virus differently," Zimmermann said. "There's some reactiveness from one strain to the other and your body still sees it as a flu virus."
The flu vaccine is never 100 percent effective, even when the right strains have been predicted. Recipients can still get the flu, but the vaccine reduces the severity of symptoms.
"When it fails to prevent the flu, it would be much worse than if you didn't have the vaccine," he said.
When vaccinated the body generates antibodies to attack the flu. It generates the same antibodies when sick.
"If you're exposed to that same virus [as the vaccine], then your body will respond a little more quickly and a little more vigorously, in which case you can fight the virus more effectively and get rid of it quicker," Zimmermann explained.
He added that recent studies suggest that the greater the number of sequential years the flu vaccine is received, the more protected the person is from flu and related illness, especially in the elderly.
"Flu vaccination just like eating healthy and exercising: a regular habit that you should be doing to help maintain a healthy state," Zimmermann said.
Regular, yearly flu shots can also potentially decrease the chance of experiencing heart disease.
"If you have the flu, your heart goes fast, you get dehydrated, you feel lousy, and you could end up having a heart attack. People don't really realize this when they have the flu," he said.
Zimmermann is often met with questions from his patients who think that the vaccine itself can make them sick, a common misconception.
"You're much more likely to get sick from sitting in my waiting room or the grocery store than from getting the flu vaccine itself," he said.
The injection form of the flu vaccine is a dead virus, so it is not infectious and is recommended for people ages 6 months and up. The nasal form, FluMist, is a weakened form of the virus and is recommended for people ages 2 to 50 without known immune system problems.
What some people experience and mistake for the flu are merely side effects with flu-like symptoms. Most commonly, patients experience a sore arm and the sniffles.
Zimmermann reminds patients that a flu shot is the best way to not only prevent them from getting the flu; it prevents them from spreading the flu as well.
"Getting the flu shot not only protects you, but also protects people around you," he said.
More information about flu vaccination can be found on the CDC website at www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/keyfacts.htm
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