Have you had your flu shot yet? If not, it is time to make the annual visit to the doctor’s office or pharmacy. October through April is when seasons change and germs and viruses are out and on the prowl.
What is the flu?
Flu is a viral infection caused by the influenza virus. Typical flu symptoms include fever, achy muscles, headache, coughs and a feeling of tiredness. Flu viruses are highly contagious and spread through coughs, and physical contact with the infected person. While the effect of flu usually disappears in 1-2 weeks, it can sometimes lead to bacterial infection – ear, sinus, or bronchitis - and in some rare cases, pneumonia.
CDC (Center for Disease Control) recommends that everyone, 6 months and older, get a flu vaccine every year to protect against it. Flu viruses mutate -- that is change each year. That means a vaccine developed one year may be totally ineffective the next. Each year in January, manufacturers gear up to produce millions of doses of flu vaccine to protect against three different flu strains.
It begins with scientists at the CDC who have to predict the virus strains to include in that year’s vaccine. Virus samples are collected from all over the world and tested to select those most likely to cause trouble in a given year. It takes about 6 to 8 months to manufacture the vaccine supply. Given that scientists have to make a prediction of each season’s viruses well ahead of time, you may find that in some years, vaccines are a better match than others.
Vaccines are grown the “old fashioned” way. The viral strains are inoculated (implanted or introduced) into fertilized chicken eggs. After sufficient incubation, the eggs are opened, the live virus growing in the embryo extracted and purified to make the flu vaccine. When you take that jab in your arm (Ouch!), a very small quantity of the dead virus is injected into your body. The amazing human body learns the code of the virus and creates the necessary antibodies to defend itself. Nasal-spray-flu-vaccine is an alternative where a very small dose of the weakened, live virus is inhaled.
There are a few who believe that taking the flu shot is not effective, while others have egg allergies or avoid vaccines for religious reasons. Scientists are working on a universal flu vaccine that would train the immune system to identify and destroy flu, no matter what type it is.
But wait, the miracle shot is not here yet! Until we have one, the annual shot is our best bet.