It happens every year, like Christmas and New Year!
Getting ready for Christmas is a must: organising the food, the presents, the house decorations, who in the family will be attending… it is certainly a very happy time of the year, but what if the flu strikes? The happy season will turn into a miserable flu season…
And what should we do to escape this?
Even if we do not have means of escaping all the not-so-nice viruses that attack humankind, the influenza virus is possible to control, as is avoiding its nasty effects.
We cannot predict what this flu season will be like, as flu seasons are unpredictable in a number of ways. While flu spreads every year, the timing, severity and length of the season usually varies from one season to another.
Flu viruses are constantly changing, so it is not unusual for new flu viruses to appear each year.
The timing of flu is very unpredictable and can vary from season to season, but seasonal flu activity can begin as early as October and continue to occur as late as May.
How to prepare for the flu season
Vaccination, vaccination and vaccination! Flu is a serious disease but luckily there is a vaccine, designed yearly, made-to-measure for the expected viruses, to protect against the main flu viruses that research suggests will cause the most illness during the upcoming flu season.
Starting at six months of age, people should begin getting vaccinated soon after the flu vaccine becomes available, preferably by October, to ensure that as many people as possible are protected before the flu season begins.
Children younger than six months are at higher risk of serious flu complications, but are too young to get a flu vaccine. Because of this, safeguarding them from flu is especially important. If you live with, or care for, an infant younger than six months of age, you should get a flu vaccine to help protect the child from flu.
It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against the flu.
The flu is a serious, easily spread infectious disease, so stay away from sick people and stay home from work or school if you are sick with flu, to prevent spreading to others.
All this is important, but it is never enough to say, repeatedly, that washing your hands to reduce the spread of germs is the most relevant preventive measure besides vaccination.
When most healthy people are vaccinated, they are protected throughout the flu season. Older people and others with weakened immune systems may not generate the same amount of antibodies and their antibody levels may drop more quickly.
For everyone, getting vaccinated each year provides the best protection against influenza throughout the flu season. It is important to get a flu vaccine every season, even if you got vaccinated the season before and the viruses in the vaccine have not changed for the current season.
Flu vaccine effectiveness
Influenza vaccine effectiveness can vary from year to year and amongst different age and risk groups.
Experts must pick which viruses to include in the vaccine many months in advance in order for the vaccine to be produced and delivered on time, but flu viruses change constantly. They can change from one season to the next or they can even change within the course of one flu season.
Thus, there is always the possibility of a not-so-perfect match between circulating viruses and the viruses in the vaccine.
Nothing is really perfect, but if this is the best we can get, we should use it.
We can only win. There is nothing to lose as the vaccine can provide protection even if it is not a perfectly “good” match, as antibodies made in response to vaccination can sometimes provide protection against different but related viruses.
As well, the flu vaccine contains more than one flu virus, so, even when there is a less-than-ideal match or lower effectiveness against one virus, the vaccine may protect against the other viruses.
Is it possible to get the flu when vaccinated?
It is possible, for several reasons, although we cannot know for sure that it is the seasonal flu, unless a flu test will confirm it.
▪ Being exposed to a flu virus shortly before getting vaccinated or during the period that it takes the body to gain protection after getting vaccinated may result in being ill with flu before the vaccine begins to protect. Antibodies that provide protection only develop in the body about two weeks after vaccination.
▪ Exposure to a flu virus that is not included in the seasonal flu vaccine as there are many different flu viruses that circulate every year. The flu vaccine only includes protection for the most common.
▪ Some people can become infected with a flu virus that the flu vaccine is designed to protect against, despite getting vaccinated. Protection can vary widely, based on health and age factors of the person getting vaccinated.
Flu vaccination is not a perfect tool, but it is the best way to protect against the flu infection.
It is good to know that if you get sick, there are drugs that can treat flu illness… just do not forget that the probability of being sick with influenza is certainly much, much lower, if people are vaccinated.
Best health wishes,
By Dr Maria Alice
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Dr Maria Alice is a consultant in General and Family Medicine. General Manager/Medical Director – Luzdoc International Medical Service / Medilagos. Medical Director – Grupo Hospital Particular do Algarve