In my upcoming CD on natural health and nutrition I make my viewpoint known about the Flu and that you don’t ‘catch’ the flu but you create an environment in your body that is toxic which helps you to get sick. But with this said, the following is the mainstream thoughts on the flu and flu shots.
The dreaded H5N1 avian flu, as feared, finally mutated last August into a virulent form that can easily spread from person to person, increasing the likelihood of a pandemic that could kill hundreds of millions. (Much like 1918’s infamous Spanish flu) Luckily, this mutation was the creation of scientists at the National Institutes of Health, in Bethesda, Maryland, and the mutated strain lives for now only in Petri dishes.
The reason why these scientists mutated this virus was so that they can understand how a mutated virus will function in nature before they can find a cure.
Since 2003, there has been a 28-fold increase in the number of times the deadly strain has jumped to humans, killing 60 percent of the people it has infected. Compare that to the Spanish flu, which wiped out only 2 to 20 percent of its hosts but resulted in about 100 million deaths worldwide.
Whether or not a vaccine for H5N1 is discovered in time, the vast majority of scientists agree on one thing, getting an annual flu vaccine will prevent you from having simultaneous infections of both the avian flu and the regular flu, which will keep the viruses from swapping genes and creating the super bug feared globally.
But even more important, is protecting yourselves against the current carnage that influenza causes. The disease kills 3,600 Americans every week during flu season. However, scientists face a major problem that’s only getting worse: conspiracy theories. Thanks to “the Internet,” influenza myths are spreading like, well, a pandemic.
I commonly hear people saying, Vaccines are unnatural, and I’ll take my chances. The bottom line is that the flu kills people, and the best way for you to protect yourself and your family is to get vaccinated.
Here, are the five most popular flu-shot myths.
Myth 1: The flu shot will give you the flu. This is impossible, because the flu shot doesn’t actually use live viruses. Vaccine makers grow the flu virus in eggs, and then purify and chemically treat the virus to deactivate it. What they inject into you are the two pieces from the whole virus that act as keys that allow the virus to enter your cells — the H and N proteins. Your body then builds antibodies against these keys, rendering them useless so the virus is unable to infect you. There is no way the shot can give you the flu.
Myth 2: Because they are grown in eggs, flu vaccines can actually give you the avian flu. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that can happen. Vaccine makers collect eggs long before flu season, sterilize them before use, and then kill all the viruses. The real danger would be giving the shot to someone with an egg allergy, which could cause life-threatening anaphylactic shock. Statistically, the odds of that happening are one in a million.
Myth 3: The vaccine can’t possibly protect people because it’s made before scientists know which particular strain will spread in any particular flu season. The vaccine offers protection against three flu viruses each season. Vaccine makers predict which strain will be troublesome almost a year in advance, which admittedly, can be tricky. However, scientists have become amazingly good at forecasting which are likely to spread. One out of 15 to 20 seasons, the vaccines are imperfectly matched, but some level of protection is better than none.
Myth 4: Healthy people don’t need a flu shot. Generally, it’s true that the flu poses the greatest risk to infants, the elderly, and those with chronic illnesses. However the Spanish flu was most effective at killing healthy young adults. Every strain is different, and young and healthy people can prevent the flu from being transmitted to the rest of the population if they are vaccinated.
Myth 5: The flu shot causes autism. In the late 1990s, scientists got excited about a possible link between a compound in vaccines called thimerosal, which contains mercury (a known neurotoxin), and autism. Five large studies, however, disputed any link. There’s no evidence of any association between vaccines or thimerosal and autism.
Every year, an estimated 36,000 Americans die from the flu, and more than 200,000 are hospitalized.
One explanation most people have heard for the spread of the flu is that in winter, people crowd together inside, providing a perfect opportunity for flu viruses and other respiratory infections to spread. But scientists and common sense thinkers alike have been questioning the so-called crowding theory for years.
We have schools in May and June, and people do get together at movie theatres in the summer, so crowding alone doesn’t explain it.
Alternative theories abound. Some centre on how the human body responds to decreased sunlight and by making less of the hormone melatonin or vitamin D, for example, both of which might affect immunity.
Another theory is that drier, colder air is key. A recent study gave the strongest support yet to this idea as scientists exposed guinea pigs to flu viruses and found they easily infected one another in cool, dry air but couldn’t spread the flu at all at 30 degrees Celsius (86 F). So, should we turn our houses, nursing homes and schools into saunas and invite in the neighbors? No. For one thing, what’s bad for the flu virus may be perfect for other microbes like molds and bacteria which would be delighted to take up residence in overheated, highly humidified buildings.
If crowding is not the primary cause of seasonal flu patterns, it does plays a role in spreading the flu. It’s common sense that the more crowded a situation is, the more at risk you are. One thing researchers do know, is that some germs are especially well adapted to crowded conditions. Among them are adenoviruses, which often cause outbreaks of respiratory illnesses. One apparently nasty strain is implicated in recent severe cases of the so called boot camp flu. But the solution isn’t private rooms for recruits; it’s a vaccine the military hopes to introduce soon.
The single best way to avoid the flu is to get a flu shot. But you can also protect yourself and others if you:
− Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
− Stay home when you are sick.
− Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.
− Wash your hands often.
− Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
− Practice good health habits. Get enough sleep, stay active, manage stress and eat well.
Answers to your flu shot questions
When is the flu vaccine available?
The flu vaccine is generally offered between September and mid-November, which is typically before the late-fall or early winter start to flu season.
What kind of protection does the flu vaccine offer?
A flu shot is between 70 and 90 percent effective in warding off illness, depending on the length and intensity of a given flu season and your overall health. In a few cases, people who get a flu shot may still get the flu, but they’ll get a much less virulent form of the illness and most important, they’ll have a decreased risk of flu-related complications (especially pneumonia, heart attack, stroke and death) to which older adults are especially vulnerable.
A study published in 2006 showed that the nasal spray flu vaccine (FluMist) was only between 30 and 57 percent effective in preventing the flu in adults. However, another study in 2006 found that giving nasal spray vaccine to school age children helped reduce the spread of flu in the community. And in 2007, researchers compared the effectiveness of FluMist with the flu shot in children ages 6 months to 5 years. The children treated with FluMist experienced about half as many cases of flu as did those who received the shot. However, FluMist increases the risk of wheezing in this age group, especially in those who already have asthma or recurrent wheezing and in all children under age 2. In 2007, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) therefore approved FluMist for children older than 2 years who don’t have asthma or recurrent wheezing. Consult with your doctor about which form of vaccination may be best for you or your child.
Why do I need to get vaccinated every year?
You need annual flu protection because the vaccine changes from year to year. The flu vaccine you got last year wasn’t designed to fight the virus strains in circulation this coming flu season.
Influenza viruses mutate so quickly that they can render one season’s vaccine ineffective by the next season. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advisory committee meets early in the year to estimate which strains of influenza virus will be most prevalent during the upcoming flu season, and manufacturers produce vaccine based on those recommendations.
What are my options for the flu vaccine?
The flu vaccine comes in two forms:
- A shot. A flu shot contains an inactivated vaccine made of killed virus. The shot is usually given in the arm. Because the viruses in the vaccine are killed (inactivated), the shot won’t cause you to get the flu, but it will enable your body to develop the antibodies necessary to ward off influenza viruses. You may have a slight reaction to the shot, such as soreness at the injection site, mild muscle ache or fever. Reactions usually last one to two days and are more likely to occur in children who have never been exposed to the flu virus.
- A nasal spray. Administered through your nose, the nasal spray vaccine (FluMist) consists of a low dose of live, but weakened, flu viruses. The vaccine doesn’t cause the flu, but it does prompt an immune response in your nose and upper airways as well as throughout your body.
What are the main differences between the two types of flu vaccine?
Both the flu shot and the nasal spray help protect you from influenza. But there are differences to consider before deciding between the two.
|Flu shot||Nasal spray|
|Administered through a needle — you’ll need a shot||Administered through a spray — you won’t need a shot|
|Contains killed viruses — you can’t pass the flu along to anyone else||Contains weakened live viruses that won’t give you the flu but can, in rare cases, be transmitted to others|
|Approved for use in people 6 months of age and older||Approved for healthy people ages 2 years to 49 years|
|Can be used in people at increased risk of flu-related complications, including pregnant women, as well as those with chronic medical conditions||Given only to non pregnant healthy people,not to those with chronic medical conditions, suppressed immune systems or to children and adolescents receiving aspirin therapy|
|May be available free to the uninsured and is usually covered by insurance||May not be covered by insurance|
Who should get the flu vaccine?
Most people who want to reduce the risk of having influenza can get a flu shot. The CDC recommends the flu vaccine in particular if you:
- Are age 6 months to 4 years
- Are a child on long-term aspirin therapy
- Are pregnant
- Are 50 years old or older
- Have a chronic medical condition such as asthma, diabetes or heart, kidney or lung disease
- Have a weakened immune system such as from medications or HIV infection
- Are a resident of a nursing home or other long term care facility
- Are a child care worker or health care worker or live with or care for someone at high risk of complications from the flu
Who shouldn’t get the flu shot?
Don’t get a flu shot if you:
- Have had an allergic reaction to the vaccine in the past.
- Are allergic to chicken eggs.
- Developed Guillain-Barre syndrome, a serious autoimmune disease affecting your nerves outside the brain and spinal cord, within six weeks of receiving the vaccine in the past. People who have experienced Guillain-Barre after the flu vaccine are at higher risk than are others of developing it again.
- Have a fever. Wait until your symptoms improve before getting vaccinated.
Why do children need two doses of the flu vaccine?
Children younger than 9 years old require two doses of the flu vaccine if it’s the first time they’ve been vaccinated for influenza. That’s because children don’t develop an adequate antibody level the first time they get the vaccine. Antibodies help fight the virus if it enters your child’s system. If a flu vaccine shortage was to occur and your child couldn’t get two doses of vaccine, one dose might still offer some protection.
I heard the flu shot isn’t very effective for older adults. Is it worth getting vaccinated if you’re over 65?
If you’re over age 65, the vaccine doesn’t offer as much protection as it would to someone younger because older adults produce fewer antibodies in response to the virus. Still, the vaccine offers more protection than does skipping the shot altogether. More important, the flu vaccine decreases the risk of flu-related complications (especially pneumonia, heart attack, stroke and death) to which older adults are especially vulnerable.
Will the flu shot protect against bird flu if there’s an outbreak among humans?
An annual flu shot won’t protect you specifically from bird flu, but it will reduce the risk of simultaneous infection with human and bird flu viruses. This is important because simultaneous infections are the main way that viruses swap genes and create new strains that potentially can cause flu pandemics.
Can I lower my risk of the flu without getting a flu shot?
With or without a flu shot, you can take steps to help protect yourself from the flu and other viruses.
Practice good hygiene
Good hygiene remains your primary defense against contagious illnesses.
- Wash your hands thoroughly and often with soap and water or an alcohol-based sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth whenever possible.
- Avoid crowds when the flu is most prevalent in your area.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
If I’ve already had the flu, can I get it again?
Once you’ve had the flu, you develop antibodies to the viral strain that caused it. But those antibodies won’t protect you from new or mutated strains of influenza or other viruses.
What should I do if I get the flu?
First of all, don’t go to work or school, you’ll risk spreading this contagious disease to others.
To relieve your symptoms:
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Avoid alcohol and tobacco.
- Consider over-the-counter medicine such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) to ease the discomfort associated with muscle aches or fever, but don’t give aspirin to children or teenagers because of the risk of the rare but serious disease, Reye’s syndrome. And keep in mind that acetaminophen can cause severe liver damage if taken in excess.
- Use antiviral medications if prescribed by your doctor, but no longer than recommended. Be sure to monitor yourself. If you start feeling worse, consult your doctor to make sure you’re not developing a flu-related complication.
What kind of complications can arise from the flu?
Complications include bacterial infection, pneumonia and dehydration. If you have a chronic medical condition, you may experience a worsening of that condition. Children can develop sinus and ear infections.
Is there any medicine to treat the flu?
Antivirals work both to prevent the flu and to help reduce the severity and duration of the illness by a day or two. Antiviral medications must be taken within 48 hours of the onset of your symptoms and are available only by prescription. Ask your doctor about getting a rapid flu test that can verify within a few hours whether you have the flu.
These two anti virals are recommended for treating the flu virus:
- Zanamivir (Relenza)
- Oseltamivir (Tamiflu)
Each of these drugs can cause side effects, including lightheadedness, nausea, loss of appetite and difficulty breathing. They can also lead to the development of antiviral-resistant viruses.
People with the flu, particularly children, who take Tamiflu may be at increased risk of self-injury and confusion. The FDA recommends that individuals with the flu who take Tamiflu be closely monitored for signs of unusual behavior. In July 2007, the FDA approved two lower dose versions of Tamiflu for children. Still, discuss possible side effects with your doctor before starting any antiviral medication.
Your best bet for treating flu symptoms remains the tried and true:
- Get plenty of fluids.
- Take acetaminophen or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) for aches and pains.
It’s also important to eat healthy and get some daily activity to help keep your immune system in top form.
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