Tag Archives: flu

A Tough Year to Fight the #Flu

My son and his wife and one of my grandkids have been fighting the flu.

This is not a year to get the flu.

The type of flu circulating in most of North America right now is the H3N2 variety. And, in the words of Helen Branswell in a STAT article she’s written, H3N2 is “the problem child of seasonal flu.”

H3N2 kills more people than any of the other flu varieties. It’s also the toughest strain to protect against. Research shows the flu vaccine, which inoculates against several varieties, is only about 33 percent effective against H3N2. The component in the same vaccine that fights H1N1 flu, on the other hand, is about twice as effective. Influenza expert Dr. Ed Belongia, quoted in Branswell’s article, puts it this way:

“The biggest challenge or frustration is that H3 … for whatever reason, is the virus that we see causing the most severe illness in large numbers of people. And it’s also the virus for which our vaccine is least effective. And so that’s a double whammy that so far we have not been able to adequately deal with.”

The statistics this season bear this out. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports “widespread” flu activity in 49 states. Only Hawaii has escaped so far. As of the final week of 2017, flu claimed at least 211 lives in the U.S. In Australia, where flu season precedes North America by about six months, health officials reported a record number of flu cases.

Flu shots for MS patients?

Last fall, when the North American flu season was just gearing up, I posed this question to my readers: “Flu Shot or No Flu Shot for MS patients?” The response I received on some social media platforms surprised me. Though the majority of people said they had (or would get) one, several answered: “never,” “not me,” or “I got the flu from the shot.” It seems to me this is a dangerous way of looking at a vaccine that saves lives. I got mine in October.

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society thinks getting a flu shot is a no-brainer. Its website says:

“The seasonal flu vaccine has been studied extensively in people with MS and is considered quite safe, regardless of the disease-modifying therapy they are taking. However, individuals being treated with Lemtrada® should be given the inactivated flu vaccine six weeks before receiving their Lemtrada infusion.”

That NMSS webpage is a good source of more detailed flu vaccine information with information related to specific disease-modifying drugs.

Can the vaccine give me the flu?

Doctors say the flu vaccine doesn’t give you the flu, but here’s why some people may think it does, according to the CDC:

  • Other respiratory viruses cause symptoms similar to flu and also spread and cause illness during the flu season. The flu vaccine only protects against influenza, not other illnesses.
  • It’s possible to be exposed to influenza viruses, which cause the flu, shortly before getting vaccinated or during the two-week period after vaccination that it takes the body to develop immune protection. This exposure may result in a person becoming ill with flu before protection from the vaccine takes effect.
  • The flu vaccine can vary in how well it works and some people who get vaccinated may still get sick. That seems to be the case this flu season.

Have you had your shot?

The flu generally peaks in February, so there’s still time to get a shot. You can get one in nearly any pharmacy in the U.S. and, in most cases, it’s covered with no co-pay. If you’re still on the fence, at least hear what your doctor has to say about it.

I’m very glad that I got my flu vaccine again this year, as my wife and I have for decades. I’m really glad that my son and his family all had theirs. Though they’re sick they’re getting better. Their illness could have been worse.

(This is an updated version of a column that first appeared on http://www.multiplesclerosisnewstoday.com)

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