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Live Healthy, Atlanta! Thought Leader

Flu Season Starts Early and Hits Hard

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

2013 has brought with it a severe flu season. After 700 reported cases of influenza and four flu-related deaths, the mayor of Boston declared a state of emergency in the city. At this same time last year, there were only 70 reported cases of the flu.

Higher than average rates of influenza are being reported across the country, from Chicago to South Carolina. Forty-seven states are reporting widespread flu outbreak, with a state of emergency also declared in New York by the governor. The Georgia Department of Public Health announced that the flu reached epidemic levels in our state on January 11.

Stock PhotoAlthough we know to expect flu season and are reminded early and often by posters in every corner pharmacy to get our flu shot, an average of only 37 percent of Americans get vaccinated against the flu each year. While determining the number of flu-related deaths each year is difficult, the Centers for Disease Control “…  estimates that from the 1976-1977 season to the 2006-2007 flu season, flu-associated deaths ranged from a low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people.”

The first vaccine used against flu viruses was developed in 1938 by Jonas Salk and Thomas Francis. (Salk would go on to develop the first effective polio vaccine in 1952.) The vaccine was given to U.S. military forces to protect them during World War II. The early flu vaccines, produced from the 1940s to the 1960s, were not as purified as modern vaccines. The impurity of early vaccines may be why the belief that the flu vaccine can give you the flu persists.

Impurities in the flu vaccine were thought to contribute to side effects like fever, aches, and fatigue. Because the side effects are similar to symptoms of the flu, people mistakenly believed the vaccine had given them the flu.

Both early vaccines and modern vaccines are made using killed viruses. You cannot contract the flu from a flu shot. Side effects of getting the vaccine are generally mild (if they occur at all.) If you want to know more, please follow the link to Flu.gov’s Vaccine and Vaccine Safety page.

This year’s dominant flu strain, H3N2, is virulent. But there’s good news: H3N2 also appears to be a good match to the flu strains in this year’s vaccine. According to the CDC, this year’s vaccine is 62 percent effective. If you aren’t one of the 37 percent of people who’ve already gotten a flu shot, it’s not too late. There is a good supply of vaccines, and you should be able to get one easily (though you may have to contact more than one provider.) After getting the vaccine, it takes about two weeks to develop the antibodies that protect against the flu.

Symptoms of the flu are quite similar to the common cold; both will leave you with a sore throat and a cough. The flu is more severe than a cold, however, and those who get the flu often describe the sudden onset of symptoms as “getting hit like a ton of bricks.” With the flu, expect muscle aches, fever, and headache. In some cases, it can cause vomiting and diarrhea. If you’re feeling ill, call in sick! The flu is very contagious (especially this year’s strain) and you’ll need to rest. Read the CDC’s guide to taking care of yourself. If someone in your household gets the flu, read the CDC’s guide on how to care for others who are sick.

Stay well, everyone!


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