October 11, 2018
Submitted by Caleb Chitwood, PharmD, PGYI Pharmacy Practice Resident, Fort HealthCare
A century ago the most devastating pandemic in recent recorded history, the 1918 influenza virus (Spanish Flu) infected up to a third of the world’s population and is estimated to have killed more than 50 million worldwide; 675,000 in the United States. At the time, there were no vaccines available to prevent flu, no medications to treat the flu, and no antibiotics to treat other infections caused by the flu. A lot can change in 100 years… Including the flu.
In the 1960’s an annual influenza vaccine became available and recommended for certain people who would be at risk for becoming very sick with the flu. Now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone older than six months of age receive the flu vaccine every year.
In 1918, H1N1 was the strain of the flu virus that caused the devastating pandemic. Now there are multiple strains of the flu circulating around the world and each year the CDC studies these strains to make predictions about which of them is most likely to affect the United States. These predictions help vaccine manufactures create vaccines which will be effective against three or four of the most common flu strains.
The CDC recommends that people get vaccinated by the end of October as it takes about two weeks for a person’s body to create the antibodies needed to fight off the flu once exposed. If you are unable to get vaccinated before the end of October, getting vaccinated later during the flu season (October –May), can still be helpful for preventing the flu.
The only groups of people who should not get vaccinated are children under six months of age. Children of this age are at especially high risk of serious complications from the flu so it is important that everybody around young children get vaccinated. It is especially important for pregnant mothers to receive the flu vaccine for their own protection and to pass protection on to their babies for a few months after birth.
Aside from babies, only people who have had a very serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to a previous dose of the flu vaccine and people who have developed a very rare condition called Guillain-Barre syndrome after receiving the vaccine should not be vaccinated.
Myth: If you have an egg allergy, you cannot get vaccinated because the flu vaccine is made from eggs.
Fact: Many of the available vaccines are not made from eggs, so there are safe vaccines available for people with egg allergies.
Myth: The flu vaccine can give you the flu.
Fact: The nasal spray vaccine is the only vaccine containing live virus. It is a very small amount of virus and most people will have no problem creating antibodies to it. Certain people with weakened immune systems should not receive this vaccine.
Fact: All other flu vaccines contain inactivated virus so they cannot cause you to get the flu. It does take up to two weeks for the body to create antibodies, so it is possible that a person could have gotten the flu shortly before being vaccinated (but not yet feel sick) or gotten infected with the virus within the two weeks after getting vaccinated and become sick with the flu. This is why it is important to get vaccinated early in the season before you are likely to be exposed to the flu.
The flu vaccine covers three or four of the most common strains of the flu. It is possible to become infected with a less common strain but the vaccine may help the body develop antibodies which will also help fight off the less common flu strain. Visit the CDC website for more information and review frequently asked questions about the flu.
The single most effective way to reduce risk of getting the flu is to get vaccinated. It is still possible for a vaccinated person to get the flu, but the illness may be less severe and resolve sooner than if unvaccinated.
Children less than five years of age, pregnant women, people with diabetes, asthma, heart disease, lung disease, and people older than 65 are at higher risk for becoming very sick from the flu. These groups of people as well as anyone in close contact with them should also be sure to get vaccinated.
The following everyday preventive actions will also help to prevent the flu as well as other illnesses:
Patients of Fort HealthCare primary care clinics can call and make appointments to receive a flu shot, or request a flu shot appointment through their MyCompass patient portal.
You can also get your vaccines administered by a local pharmacist. Visit www.vaccinefinder.org to find a pharmacy near you that can give you a flu shot.
Fort HealthCare participates in most insurance plans, including Dean Care, Dean Care Gold, Unity, Physicians Plus, MercyCare, Humana, United Healthcare, and more. For a complete listing, visit FortHealthCare.com/Insurance.