It is late-November and important to remember that it is not too late to get a flu shot. I got the flu shot to protect myself from infection by the influenza virus, which is the virus that causes the flu and induces a combination of symptoms including: a cough, sore throat, runny or congested nose, fever, chills, muscle and head aches. Influenza usually leaves one feeling awful and needing to spend several days (at least) in bed.
The flu is not just another cold. Influenza and the common cold are both caused by viruses that infect cells in the upper respiratory tract, but they are caused by very different viruses. While the common cold and influenza may share similar symptoms the symptoms caused by influenza tend to be much more severe. Moreover, influenza can lead to serious complications like pneumonia that may result in hospitalization or death especially in susceptible individuals, including babies that are too young to be immunized, the elderly and those with health conditions that cause decreased immune function. In 2009 more than 18,000 people died world wide from infection with a new strain of influenza, know as H1N1, according to the World Health Organization.
Influenza is easily spread from person to person through contact with virus containing respiratory droplets produced though coughing, spitting or sneezing. We can also catch the flu by coming in contact with anything that has been contaminated with virus containing respiratory droplets by shaking hands, sharing a glass, or touching a contaminated surface, such as a phone or door knob, and subsequently touching our nose, mouth or eyes. Its not clear how long the virus can survive and still be infectious on a contaminated surface, it may be as little as a few minutes to as long as a day or two. What is clear is that influenza is infectious and easily transmitted.
Fortunately protection from influenza is easily obtained through getting an annual flu shot and by using good hand washing technique. The flu shot is a vaccine that contains inactivated influenza virus; because the virus in the vaccine is inactivated it cannot cause disease, and the shot is usually given by injection in the upper arm.
As the influenza virus has a number of different strains that vary in their activity (likelihood of causing an infection) from year to year the flu shot is reformulated each year so that it contains the strains of influenza that have been most active. Reformulating the flu shot each year results in the most protection from infection, but it also means that you need to get the flu shot every year as the precise composition of the vaccine varies annually. This year’s flu shot contains inactivated; influenza A California/7/2009 (H1N1) virus, influenza A Perth/16/2009 virus and influenza B Brisbane/60/2008 virus. Each strain is named for when and where it was first isolated. The flu shot contains an inactivated H1N1 strain of influenza so you only need one flu shot this year as opposed to 2009 when there were two.
Looking down the road several years, scientists are currently working on a universal flu vaccine that will provide protection from all strains of influenza and eliminate the need to get a flu shot every year. However, until the universal vaccine is available the annual flu shot offers us the best protection from influenza.
Like all vaccines the flu shot induces protection from infection by educating the immune system and teaching it to kill a specific infectious disease-causing organism. For the flu shot that organism is influenza. The flu shot does this by inducing an immune response that leads to the generation of white blood cells that specifically recognize influenza and are capable of rapidly responding and killing the virus before it can cause disease. The immune response to the flu shot takes about two weeks to reach maximal protection so getting the flu shot now means you will be fully protected once winter sets in and the flu season starts.
Now that I have had my flu shot, I am protected from influenza and ready for the days to turn cold and rainy. In getting the flu shot I am not only protecting myself but also helping to protect my friends, family and members of my community because when the vaccination rate is high there are fewer unprotected people who can be infected with the influenza virus and spread it unintentionally too their family, friends, neighbors and colleagues.
So getting the flu shot is a win win situation, it’s good for you and good for the community. Enjoy the winter without with out fear of catching influenza by having your annual flu shot.
For more information on influenza and the flu shot visit -