Do you live smack-dab in the middle of an influenza Hot Spot, without even knowing it?
The CDC reports that in January 2014, cases of the flu in the United States continued to be on the rise. Having the flu is an unwelcome and uncomfortable event. For people with impaired immunity, the young and the infirm for example, it can be more than just a time of misery: it can be life-threatening.
In addition to the usual means of keeping healthy–nutritious diet, plenty of fluids, exercise, rest, frequent hand washing, etc.–most people consider taking the flu vaccine as their best defense against coming down with the flu.
There is a secret behind the flu vaccine that few people know. Most people assume the flu vaccine you get in early winter is exactly what you need to protect you. They have no idea that a great deal of guesswork goes into making that flu vaccine.
Flu viruses are constantly mutating. In addition, viruses that had been a problem only in one location or population make the jump to a new location or population (think Asian flu, a virus that originated in Asia and made the jump to the rest of the world, or the way early explorers brought new disease to the Native American population). The development and manufacture of a vaccine in sufficient quantities to protect a large population takes a fair amount of time. Given these two competing factors, it would be impossible to wait until flu season to determine which strain of flu poses the largest threat and engineer a vaccine to prevent it.
Instead, medical researchers must make a guess based on virus mutations and their experience with the ways in which diseases spread when choosing which flu strain to base the vaccine on for the upcoming season. In effect, if you want to prevent a flu epidemic, or especially a pandemic, you have to act before the facts can be fully known. They are making a guess–an educated guess, but a guess nonetheless.
Much of the controversy regarding the flu vaccine regards the guesswork that is at the heart of vaccine development. Researchers point to pandemics such as the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 (a pandemic is an epidemic on a world-wide scale). Estimates of death due to this flu range from between 20 to 100 million. It is believed that more than 20% of the entire population of the world suffered from this disease.
Worse still, tissue samples from that time still apparently show live virus strains even after all these years. Researchers point to the severity of this disease, and the increasing ease and rapidity with which diseases can spread in the modern world, and insist that an educated guess is our best line of defense to prevent this from happening again.
Whether or not you choose to take the flu vaccine is a matter of personal choice. Whatever you decide, knowing more about how the vaccine is developed will make it easier for you to make that choice.
Outbreaks of influenza typically occur in the winter, when the environment features colder air with a low water content, or low humidity. In fact, air in the winter can have as much as four times less moisture than air in the summer. And the flu likes dry air.
This could be another explanation of the seasonal nature of flu. In this case, researchers are talking about absolute humidity, not relative humidity, the more common reading. Relative humidity is a ratio not an absolute amount. Absolute humidity, on the other hand, is the actual amount of water in a volume of air. And it is the amount of water that concerns the virus. It seems that the water in the air affects the virus itself, although the exact mechanism is not clearly understood.
What is clear is the discovery that when the absolute humidity is low, that is to say the air is dryer; the survival rate of the virus is greater. Longer survival equals more transmission, meaning higher infection rates.
Once the numbers were analyzed, it was seen that more flu cases were discovered when it was both colder and drier. In temperate regions of North America and Europe, absolute humidity has a powerful cycle that is seasonal. These changes, which dramatically lessen in the wintertime, parallel an increase in the rates of transmission of the virus as well as the rate of survival of that same influenza virus.
By using absolute humidity in this way, an additional factor in the spread of influenza and the endurance of the virus can be an added to the creation of models of infection, or models for the prediction of viral spread. Doctors Shaman and Kohn, authors of a study published in the Proceeds of the National Academy of Science on March 3, 2009, were quick to point out that this is a preliminary study and further exploration of this phenomenon is needed, especially in the areas of epidemiology, modeling and lab work into the actual structure of the virus.
Still, this remains an important potential insight into the way the flu virus is spread, and consequently how to keep the flu virus from spreading. Until all mechanisms of flu infection are better understood, the flu vaccine remains the best protection against becoming infected.
If you are concerned about a preservative free flu vaccination for your child, Fluzone is the answer. Manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur, this product is free of Thimerosal, the preservative found in multiple doing influenza products. The Food and Drug Administration has approved Fluzone preservative free flu shots for children who have attained six months of age or older. These are pre-dosed, individual syringes for intra-muscular injection, thereby eliminating the need for a cross-contaminant preservative. For vaccinating against strains A and B of the influenza virus, this is the option for those parents who are adamant about protecting their children from additives like Thimerosal.
The Fluzone syringes are identifiable by their bright pink plunger delivery system. The pink plunger will offer the parent a way to identify if the vaccine their child is receiving is a preservative free flu shot. There is no need to draw the vaccine from a multi-dose vial, so if you witness a vial draw taking place, you should interject immediately. All vial drawn, multi-dose influenza vaccines contain preservatives. Parents accompanying children for their vaccinations should be knowledgeable on which formulations are packaged and dispensed by the differing methodologies. If you have requested a preservative free flu shot for your child of six months or older, you should pay attention to the method and device being used.
Failing to obtain an influenza vaccination for your child based on a fear of preservatives is ill advised. The availability of the FDA approved, individually dosed Fluzone product for children’s vaccinations is the answer to these concerns. Even though a direct correlation between preservatives and possible effects of use is still being studied, having a preservative free alternative with Fluzone should provide every parent a level of comfort. Ask your pediatrician if a preservative free flu shot is available for your child before the next flu season arrives.
Influenza or flu is a contagious viral respiratory infection that usually occurs during the winter months in the northern hemisphere and all year round in the southern hemisphere. All age groups are affected by flu; however, children have the highest rate of infection. Serious illness and death due to flu usually occurs in extremes of age, those over 65 years or under 2 years.
The best way to protect against flu is through flu vaccines. The flu vaccine is composed of two flu “A” sub types and one flu “B” sub type. The viral sub types contained in the flu vaccines usually changes each year. The flu viruses for both vaccine preparations are grown in eggs. Therefore, the vaccines are contraindicated in individuals with severe allergy to eggs.
Babies and children aged six months through 8 years who need to be given 2 doses of pediatric flu vaccine, administered at least one month apart, if it’s their first dose. The children in this category are advised to get their first flu shot at the earliest, to allow sufficient gap between the first and second prescribed dose.
A type of pediatric flu vaccine that is sprayed in the nose of infants is supposed to be more protective against the disease, and is also considered safer by health professionals worldwide.
The trivalent inactivated adult flu vaccine can be administered to all adult age groups and risk populations. It is recommended that the vaccine be administered yearly to children older than 6 months of age at risk for complications from flu. Vaccine is administered intramuscularly into the deltoid muscle of adults. Adults older than 9 years of age are administered once yearly a single dose of the adult flu vaccine to protect against the strains of influenza.