It’s not too late to vaccinate for flu

Each year, we hear about the importance of getting a flu vaccination to protect our health. Some people do so, but others opt against it, thinking they have a slim chance of catching the flu or they are simply immune. But the fact is that the influenza virus changes every single year.

Influenza comes in three basic types: A, B and C. Those categories tell you a bit about how dangerous the viruses can be. Influenza C causes the mildest disease. Although influenza B can make you just as sick as influenza A, it has never triggered a worldwide pandemic. Those have all come from the influenza A strains. Among other things, influenza A usually masks itself, by covering itself with accessories. Totally, there are 144 different subtypes of influenza A that range from H1N1 to H9N16.

“The Influenza strain that is prevalent this year is H1N1,” said John Bowman, associate professor of pharmacy practice at the Texas A&M Health Science Center Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy. “It is the same strain that was around in 2009, but there is still no immunity to it. Even if someone had it then, they can still contract it this year.”

As flu season approaches each year, vaccine manufacturers try to anticipate what the most likely influenza strain will be. That way, they can prepare a vaccine to combat the symptoms. Among all of the types, Influenza A is the most dangerous type, and the only one that has caused a worldwide epidemic.

“One problem with flu vaccinations is that there is a shortage,” Bowman said. “At a manufacturing level, there may be enough vaccines to supply to communities, but at a local level, some retailers are just not ordering enough.”

Flu vaccines are trivalent, meaning they immunize those receiving the vaccine from two types of influenza A and one type of influenza B. However, there is a new quadrivalent vaccine that is available this year—it will combat an additional type B strain.

The Texas Department of State Health Services reports that the flu is widespread throughout the state, with more than 99 percent of cases being the H1N1 strain. The signs and symptoms of influenza vary from person-to-person, but common symptoms include an abrupt onset of fever, headache, fatigue and body aches. Additional symptoms include flushed skin, dry cough and a sore throat.

Early treatment of influenza with an antiviral drug can shorten the duration of fever and illness symptoms, and may reduce the risk of complications, such as ear infections in young children and pneumonia.

Antiviral medications are most effective when given within 48 hours of influenza illness onset. The two antiviral medications that are generally given to those suffering from the flu are Tamiflu and Relenza®. Tamiflu is approved for treating persons 2 weeks and older, while Relenza is approved for 7 years and older.  Side effects for both are generally mild.

Every flu season, there are more than 200, 000 people who are hospitalized because of the flu. This year, even more people will be visiting their local hospital because the flu has increased to the level of an epidemic. For many people, this can be avoided by receiving a flu shot.

“The main point is to get a flu vaccination because it is not too late,” Bowman said. “It is particularly critical for children from the ages of 6 months to 5-years-old and adults over the age of 65 to receive. They are more susceptible to pneumonia. For those in other age groups, it is still very important. This year, most deaths from the flu occurred in children and young adults. The flu vaccination can save your life.”

For more information, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This story was written by Art Niño, senior English major at Texas A&M University-Kingsville.

 John Bowman, BSPharm, MS, BCPS, FASHP, associate professor of pharmacy practice at the Texas A&M Rangel College of Pharmacy, teaches Public Health in the curriculum and was appointed to the Regional Health Awareness Board in Corpus Christi, Texas. He is a member of the Public Health Special Interest Group for American Associations of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP).

 For additional information or to schedule an interview, please contact Cheri D. Shipman, communications director, at 361-221-0606 or cshipman@tamhsc.edu.

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