Flu shot still best defense against virus
WORTHINGTON — It’s not a guarantee that you won’t get sick, but a little prick in your arm is still the best available option for avoiding a bout of influenza this year.
“It’s our first line of defense,” said Jessica Hohenstein, nurse manager at Avera Medical Group Worthington. “We are recommending the flu shot for everyone.”
So far, there have been no confirmed cases of influenza in the immediate area, but Hohenstein heard a rumor of one case already in Minnesota, and the Avera clinic has seen an influx of people with colds, coughs, sniffles — signs that the 2013-2014 influenza season is not too far off.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, seasonal influenza, aka “the flu,” is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, with serious outcomes resulting in hospitalization or death.
Flu vaccines cause antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after vaccination, and the antibodies provide protection against infection with the viruses that are in the vaccine. Each year, the vaccine is modified to protect against the influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season. The most widely available flu vaccine — a trivalent form — contains two forms of the A virus and one B virus. A quadrivalent virus — available as a nasal spray —contains a second
type of the B virus.
Contrary to what some people believe, the vaccine cannot cause a person to get the flu.
“That’s absolutely not true,” said Hohenstein. “Because it’s an inactive virus, they might get a mild fever, but the most general side effects are swelling and pain at the site of the injection. Now we have an intradermal, which goes right into the dermis, so there’s no muscle pain. Some people will get a mosquito bite-type welt, and some a little redness, but that’s it.”
The intradermal vaccine is a new preparation that offers the same viral protection, and 500 doses of it are available at the Avera clinic.
“We’re just asking that you talk to a doctor or a nurse about it, make sure it’s OK for you,” advised Hohenstein.
The timing, severity and length of the flu season varies from year to year, making it difficult to know exactly when it’s best to get the shot or take the flu mist. Last year, there was a spike in flu activity later, in January and February.
“They say you want to get it two weeks prior to the peak of the flu season, which is unpredictable,” Hohenstein said. “There is no way to predict the start of the flu season. So there are people who just go ahead and get it now, and there are some people who prefer to wait, which is not a bad thing either.”
Hohenstein recently attended a vaccine conference through the Minnesota Department of Health, and she believes that advancements in the flu vaccine are on the horizon. But for the time being, she advises patients that the flu shot offers the best available protection, while also emphasizing other preventative measures.
“The best defense is washing your hands and covering your cough,” she stressed. “Hand washing is still absolutely the No. 1 thing you can do to protect yourself.”
While availability of the flu vaccine has been an issue some years, the vaccine is plentiful this year, according to the CDC. Manufacturers have projected that they will produce between 135 million and 139 million doses of influenza vaccine for use in the U.S. during the 2013-2014 influenza season.
Flu vaccines are available at both the Avera and Sanford clinics in Worthington, as well as at many area pharmacies. Hohenstein has also conducted satellite flu shot clinics at area businesses and industries. At the Avera clinic, walk-ins are welcome, although Hohenstein asked people to avoid coming in during the lunch hour or during the busy urgent-care hours.
For more information about the influenza season, go to http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/flu-season-2013-2014.htm.