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  • A Serious Flu Season Lies Ahead: Vaccination Remains the Best Defense

    12/09/2014

    A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds that the predominant circulating H3N2 influenza virus in the US has mutated, or drifted, from the corresponding vaccine strain. Mismatches between circulating influenza viruses and vaccine strains can decrease the level of protection provided by the vaccine against that strain.  In addition, because H3N2 influenza viruses typically cause a greater number of hospitalizations and deaths than other strains, CDC is also predicting a severe flu season.

    Because even partial protection against H3N2 influenza viruses can result in health benefits and because the vaccine also provides protection against two to three additional strains of influenza that may circulate this season, vaccination continues to be recommended as the primary strategy to prevent influenza.

    Flu season has just begun and usually peaks between December and February, yet vaccination estimates from past years have shown that the number of people receiving the flu shot drops quickly after the end of November. As long as the flu viruses are spreading, vaccination can still provide protection and is still recommended.

    “Flu vaccine is one of the most useful public health tools to reduce morbidity and mortality for a preventable infectious disease. Everyone over the age of 6 months is recommended to get this vaccine annually, and vaccination, while not perfect, significantly reduces flu and its complications, even in otherwise healthy people,” said Stephen Calderwood, MD, FIDSA, president of IDSA.

    People at high risk of serious flu complications, including young children, pregnant woman, and those with chronic health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart or lung disease, and people age 65 years and older are specifically urged to get vaccinated. If someone does get flu, antiviral drug therapy is recommended for those who experience severe influenza and who are at increased risk of complications including children aged younger than 2 years; adults aged 65 years and older; persons with certain underlying chronic medical conditions, persons with immunosuppression, women who are pregnant or postpartum (within 2 weeks after delivery); persons aged younger than 19 years who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy; American Indians/Alaska Natives; persons who are significantly  obese (i.e., body-mass index is equal to or greater than 40); and residents of nursing homes and other chronic-care facilities.

    “This year, the Ebola outbreak grabbed the attention of much of the public and caused a great deal of fear, yet the flu we are all familiar with can have grave consequences, even causing thousands of deaths each year,” said Jeffrey Duchin, MD, FIDSA, chair of IDSA’s public health committee. “Vaccination remains the best tool to prevent influenza infections this season.”

    Yearly vaccination is necessary because flu viruses change and a new vaccine is made each year to protect against the viruses predicted to circulate that year, and also because immune protection from vaccination declines over time.

    Many choices are available for the flu vaccine, both in terms of where to get vaccinated—including doctor’s offices, clinics, retail stores and pharmacies--and what type of vaccine to get—including the traditional injection and nasal-spray form.

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