Flu Season Facts

Dear Dr. Eva,

I haven’t heard anything about H1N1 for a while. Are they vaccinating against it this year?

Wondering

Dear Wondering,

H1N1 influenza, also called swine flu, is still around. Protective vaccine against H1N1 is available this year, but not in a separate shot. This year, like last year, the H1N1 vaccine is already mixed into the “regular” flu vaccine.

Dr. Eva

Dear Dr. Eva,

Are this year’s flu recommendations any different from last year?

KC

Dear KC,

No. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) continues to recommend that everyone over the age of six months get flu vaccine. That means that if you can read this, you should get a flu shot! Infants under six months are not included because their immune systems cannot respond to the vaccine, so it’s not effective for them.

Dr. Eva

Dear Dr. Eva,

I heard about the recommendation that everybody get vaccinated. Shouldn’t we get the high risk people vaccinated first, like we used to?

Caretaker

Dear Caretaker,

There is no reason to believe that there will be a vaccine shortage this year, so the focus is not on saving vaccine supplies for the most vulnerable, but on creating “herd immunity” by vaccinating as many people as possible, as close as possible to the entire herd of us. When there is enough vaccine available to do this, vaccinating as many people as possible protects the vulnerable better than vaccinating the vulnerable does. This is because vaccination is only effective if a person’s immune system is able to respond to the vaccination by making protective antibodies and specialized white blood cells. Since vaccination does not work as well in infants and in people who are ill or immunosuppressed, they can be most effectively protected by making sure the healthier people around them are vaccinated and therefore will not expose them to disease. In other words, the best protection from the flu is not to be exposed to it, and that can only be achieved when everyone around the person who needs protection has been vaccinated.

Dr. Eva

Dear Dr. Eva,

Isn’t the flu vaccine just a crap shoot? How can they predict which kinds of flu will appear?

Skeptic Cal

Dear Skeptic,

It’s not as random as a crapshoot. Influenza infection constantly circles the world, mainly infecting people in the hemisphere that’s colder at any given time. In other words, the flu that was in Australia a few months ago, when it was summer in our northern hemisphere and winter in the southern hemisphere, will be arriving here soon. The chances are good that at least some of the most common types of flu we see this winter will be the same ones that were common in Australia a few months back.

Even when the stains chosen do not turn out to be the most common ones, flu vaccine provides partial protection against all strains of flu. People may get the flu, but they will be less sick and the illness will be briefer than if they had not had the vaccine.

Dr. Eva

Dear Dr. Eva,

Tell the truth – do YOU take the flu shot? I heard most doctors don’t.

JD

Dear JD,

Absolutely, every year. I had mine last week. Now will you get yours?

Dr. Eva

Ask Dr. Eva is distributed by Healthy Living News. Dr. Eva Hersh is Chief Medical Officer at Chase Brexton Health Services. Email comments and questions to [email protected] or write to Eva Hersh MD, Chase Brexton Health Services, 1001 Cathedral St., Baltimore, MD 21201

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