Prior to the modern influenza (flu)
vaccination programs, many people would die during epidemics.
Fortunately, not many people have died lately because of the
success of these programs. In 2002, for example, only 753 persons died
directly from influenza (CDC data; compare this to over 65,000 from
pneumonia, some of which might have been triggered by influenza).
Those at particular risk of dying from influenza
("flu") are the elderly and individuals with chronic
conditions affecting the lungs and/or their ability to fight off
Influenza is a viral illness. Viruses have the
ability to change/mutate quite readily, hence there are many
"strains" of influenza. The two major strains are labeled type
A and B. Various subtypes have also been identified and are often tagged
with nicknames such as the "Australian Flu".
Scientists track influenza outbreaks around the
world. This information is used to predict what flu strains are likely
to strike a region, and a vaccine is formulated against the 3 strains
that they believe will be most prevalent in the coming flu season.
Therefore, the composition of the flu vaccine will differ from year to
The flu vaccine (flu shot) is 70-90%
effective in persons younger than age 65, and about 50% effective in
older individuals. It will protect 85% of the elderly from dying from
the flu or itís complications. Even if a vaccinated individual does
manage to catch the flu, the symptoms will usually be milder/shorter
than had they not received the shot.
YOU CANNOT CATCH
INFLUENZA FROM THE VACCINE BECAUSE
IT DOES NOT CONTAIN ANY LIVE VIRUS!!! (It contains the
protein from killed viruses.) However, while most people receiving the
vaccine will not experience any adverse effects, a small percentage of
individuals react mildly to any vaccination. These symptoms may include
mild fevers and aches. The flu vaccine is
cultured from eggs, therefore, those individuals who are allergic to
eggs should not receive the flu shot!
Influenza Symptoms and Treatments
Influenza is spread by virus-infected droplets
that are coughed or sneezed into the air and are then inhaled by the
victim. While head congestion/ "cold" symptoms appear with
influenza, it is not merely a "bad cold." Rather, flu patients
go on to develop fevers, chills, muscle and joint aches, headaches, and
fatigue. One of the best descriptions of influenza is the feeling as
though had been hit by a truck. Flu victims have no energy whatsoever,
often feeling too tired to even get out of bed to see the doctor!
Influenza is a respiratory virus, hence by itself it doesnít generally
cause stomach problems such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea.
The typical course lasts between 5-9 days, but may
be shorter in normally healthy young people, or much longer if
complications (such as bronchitis) develop. Because itís not caused by
a bacteria, antibiotics are useless (unless used to treat a
complication). There are anti-viral medications available hasten the
recovery from influenza, in both oral and nasal forms. These only work
if taken within the first 1-2 days of symptoms and do not really kill
the virus - they only prevent it from reproducing. The result is a
slightly shorter duration of illness.
Best conservative care consists of relative rest,
fluids/nutrition, over-the-counter products for symptomatic relief (e.g.
Aleve/Advil, Robitussin, etc).
Want to learn more about influenza? Check out the
Centers for Disease Control (CDC) web link at http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/diseases/flu/fluvirus.htm