Health

Influenza update and the precautions you should take

Influenza (the “flu”) is caused by a virus whose protein component typically may change year to year. To adjust for changes in this protein component and to best induce the formation of specific protective antibodies, the flu vaccine formula changes year to year based on predictions of the most prevalent strains/protein components expected for the upcoming year. So, each year’s vaccine components are based in part on an educated estimate of influenza strains expected for the next year’s flu epidemic.

The current year’s flu vaccine/shot has been estimated to be only 10-40% effective against acquiring the current strains of influenza most of which are influenza A -H3N2(85%) but it’s important to understand that the flu shot in its most effective years may be no more than 60-70% effective. Nonetheless, the flu shot offers significant protection for those who receive the vaccine. For this year,1-4 out of 10 who receive the flu vaccine will be protected against acquiring the disease which is still substantial protection, particularly for the very young and the elderly.

Many of those who develop flu symptoms (during seasonal flu epidemics) such as fever, aches, cough, congestion, and even diarrhea and vomiting in children, have influenza and do not require testing. While anti-viral treatment is available, it is most effective if started within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms.

It is indicated in all patient who are at increased risk including:

Diabetes

Age - 50

Age - 2

American Indians

Chronic lung or heart disease

Pregnant patients

If you have influenza and do not take antibiotic medication it is highly likely that you will get better with no antibiotic treatment.

If a household member is diagnosed with the flu, there is preventive medication that one may take for seven days to greatly reduce the risk of “catching” the flu and should be started as soon as possible.

If you have received this year’s flu vaccine all precautions against catching the flu should still be taken because of the limited protection afforded by the vaccine. Frequent handwashing, cough etiquette and staying home if sick with fever (invest in a thermometer), should still be observed.

It is important to realize that the flu can result in complications including pneumonia, hospitalization and even death. The people most at risk are those in the above categories.

To summarize:

1) Even though this year’s flu shot is less effective this year, it still provides substantial protection and those who are unvaccinated should still receive it. Be aware that after receiving the vaccine, it may take up to 14 days to acquire protective antibody levels.

2) If you come in close/household contact with someone who has been diagnosed or treated for the flu, medication can be prescribed to reduce your risk of caching the flu in the short term.

3) The flu can result in serious complications and should you suspect you have the flu and were not able to be seen or treated within 3 days of the onset of symptoms, watch for persistent high fevers, shortness of breath, dizziness as potential signs of a complicating illness. (Most will not develop complications and will not require antibiotics or even an office visit if otherwise healthy))

The Wah-Zha-Zhi Health Center offers the influenza vaccine/flu shots to all established patients on a walk-in basis. If you are not an established patient but are of American Indian descent bring your tribal ID/CDIB and social security card and you may establish a chart and receive the vaccine on the same visit.

For more information on the Wah-Zha-Zhi Health Center, the flu vaccine, or establishing a chart, please call the WHC at (918) 287-9300.