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The facts on this year's flu vaccine

Last Modified: March 22, 2019

Diseases & Disorders

Our area is experiencing an increase in cases of influenza, particularly the H3N2 virus. Your best line of defense to protect yourself and your loved ones, is the flu shot. We invited Scott Stienecker, MD, FACP, FSHEA, FIDSA, CIC, Medical Director of Epidemiology and Infection Prevention, Parkview Health, to share some important insights on this virus, the vaccination and who might need it most. 

9 Fast Flu Facts

1. The flu is lurking all year long.  Although the flu vaccine has 4 flu strains in it (2 A and 2 B strains), we have had flu persisting all year long. There are actually 9 strains circulating around the world. Early in the flu season we saw a rise in H1N1 cases, a pandemic strain that's been circulating since 2009. The strain we are seeing now is the H3N2 (the same strain that impacted our area last year). This particular virus tends to impact children less than six months old and people over 65. It can infect the heart as well, causing heart attack and congestive heart failure. 

2. Tamiflu® is still effective for all of the strains, even those not covered in the vaccine.  If you are diagnosed with the flu, and prescribed Tamiflu, you should notice a marked improvement of your symptoms within an hour or so of the first dose, but don’t expect them to completely go away. If you are having increasing shortness of breath or increasing sputum (saliva and mucus) production and little improvement with the Tamiflu after a couple of doses, don’t wait! See your healthcare provider again, because you might have not just the flu, but bacterial pneumonia taking advantage of your weakened system.

3. The flu shot won’t give you the flu.  Some people get a little soreness, feel achy, or experience a low grade temperature after their vaccine. This means that your body is recognizing the particles and forming a response. It is working! These mild symptoms can be easily blocked (without reducing the effectiveness) by taking some ibuprofen the day of the vaccine and another dose the next morning.

4. It's not too late to get your flu shot.  While it's recommended you get the flu shot at the start of flu season, it's not too late to get the vaccine now. It is your best defense against the most life-threatening symptoms associated with influenza. While you can still get the flu after having the shot, symptoms will be far less critical.  

5. For children, the shot is still best.  While the FluMist is available, it is not recommended unless a child has an extreme fear of needles and will not otherwise get the vaccine. Parents are encouraged to get a flu shot for children 6 months and older.

6. Flu can strike twice.  If you end up in the hospital for influenza, at discharge, you will need to get a flu shot if you haven’t had one. Some might say, “Wait, didn’t I just have the flu?” Yes, but now you are immune to only one strain. There are still three more common strains to protect against. Every year, we see (unvaccinated) people who get the flu twice—from two different strains, and the second time around is far more severe because the immune system hasn’t had a chance to recover.

7. The flu shot is more effective than you think.  Vaccine efficacy is a medical term used to describe the absence of any symptoms in the treated group. The flu vaccine, at best, is only 40 percent effective at preventing 100 percent of symptoms. Typically, it ranges from 20-40 percent each year. Remember, there are 8-12 strains circulating each year, and the vaccine only covers the most common ones. But the goal is not to prevent 100 percent of symptoms, but is to prevent severe symptoms, including ER visits, ICU stay or death.  Mild symptoms can still be treated with Tamiflu minimizing the time off of work or school.

8. Know the difference between the flu and a stomach bug.  Flu is primarily a respiratory illness (fever, cough, shortness of breath, runny/stuffy nose, headache, muscle aches), and not a diarrheal illness. If diarrhea is the starting symptom with nausea and vomiting, then it’s something else, like norovirus.

9. The vaccine is safe for those with an egg allergy.  The American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology stated this year that any flu vaccine can be given to egg-allergic individuals. Special egg-free preparations are available, as well. They just cost more.






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