We Sort Out The Truth About Influenza Vaccines To Help You Decide Whether You Should Get A Flu Shot
Should you, or should you not, get a flu shot? What is the truth about influenza vaccines? Pegasus home health care experts in West Los Angeles and elsewhere sort out the facts for you in this article.
Because the flu is a viral infection, and not caused by bacteria, antibiotics will not prevent or cure it. Medical research has discovered that more than one kind of virus causes influenza. Although the common cold also results from a multitude of viruses, the flu is more than a bad cold.
Influenza is a serious illness. It puts thousands of people in the hospital each year. It leads to death for far too many young and elderly people.
The flu virus makes its home in your lungs. Influenza is, therefore, a respiratory illness rather than a gastrointestinal condition. It is not the same as “stomach flu,” which is caused by a different virus.
The Flu Is Contagious
Influenza is highly contagious. It’s easily passed from person to person, usually when someone coughs or sneezes near you. Unfortunately, some individuals can be infected and have no symptoms.
If you are exposed, you may start experiencing symptoms within a few days. Your symptoms can include any or all of the following:
- Rhinitis (inflammation of nasal passages)
- Sore throat
The flu can weaken you and leave you vulnerable to secondary infections such as pneumonia. It can also worsen existing conditions like diabetes or heart disease.
Vaccination Protects You
The best defense against influenza is getting vaccinated. The flu season usually runs from December through May. Most vaccinations take about two weeks to become effective, so experts recommend getting your flu shot by Thanksgiving Day.
A new vaccination is needed each year. That’s because the viruses responsible for influenza mutate and evolve. The flu this year likely will not be the same type of flu as last year.
Researchers try to predict which varieties of viruses will be predominant each year. A vaccine is then developed to fight those specific viruses. Some years the vaccine doesn’t match the viruses and doesn’t provide full protection.
Dozens of strains of influenza viruses circulate at any given time. They are generally classified as Type A, Type B, or Type C. Type A is the culprit in most human flu.
Type A is further divided into 16 H and 9 N subtypes. The subtypes have additional designations. The ones that affect people are H1N1, H2N2, and H3N2, each of which has many variations.
The vaccine for the 2019-2020 flu season is different from last year’s vaccine. Last year’s flu shot won’t protect you from this year’s flu viruses. The H1N1 and H3N2 components in this year’s vaccine have been changed to match the current virus strains.
Trivalent vaccines protect against two Type A viruses and one Type B virus. Quadrivalent vaccines add protection against a second Type B.
Vaccines contain several ingredients, including tiny amounts of the viruses against which they are effective. The virus is inactivated, which means it has been killed. Or the vaccine may contain a weakened (attenuated) live virus.
The purpose of the virus in the vaccine is to stimulate your body’s immune system. There isn’t enough of the virus to cause an infection. There is enough to stimulate your body to make the antibodies needed to ward off an actual infection.
There Is More Than One Type Of Vaccine
Flu vaccines are made in three ways:
- Egg-based: the traditional way of growing a virus for a vaccine
- Cell-based: the virus is grown in animal cells
- Recombinant: genes from an influenza virus are combined with genes from another virus, then grown in insect cells
Researchers continue to work on making flu vaccines safer and more effective.
Some vaccines are manufactured for specific age groups. Examples are:
- Fluzone high-dose – a trivalent inactivated vaccine made especially for adults 65 years old and older
- Fluad – an egg-based trivalent vaccine with an adjuvant added to stimulate a stronger immune response; not licensed for individuals younger than 65
- Flucelvax Quadrivalent – a cell-based vaccine safe for anyone older than four years
- Flublok Quadrivalent – a recombinant vaccine for use only in individuals that are at least 18 years old
Vaccines can contain ingredients such as preservatives or stabilizers. It’s essential to discuss any allergies you have with your physician before getting your flu shot. Your physician will also help you decide which type of vaccine is best for you.
Although flu shots are generally safe for most people, certain individuals should avoid them. These include those who:
- Are allergic, unless a vaccine without their allergen is used
- Have a fever or serious illness (postpone the shot until well)
- Have Guillain Barre syndrome
Discuss any concerns about your physical health and advisability of getting a flu shot with your doctor.
Pegasus is a licensed Home Care Organization and a Joint Commission Accredited Home Health Care organization. We encourage you to get your flu shot as soon as you can. Even if you don’t, our home health care services in West Los Angeles and our other locations are always available.