The threat of the flu

Every year, the debate about whether or not to get the flu shot persists. We worry about whether it will work, when is the best time to receive the vaccination and what the true threat is. Thankfully, recent research from the Student Research Fellowship Program (SRFP)* and guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can offer more insight.

The study.
Parkview Health and SRFP, along with the IU School of Medicine and Manchester University College of Pharmacy, used a retrospective chart review to investigate the incidence of influenza in northeast Indiana. By analyzing patient gender, age, time spent in the hospital, mortality, and location of infections, the study was meant to target future infection prevention efforts.

The findings.
The influenza virus infects 10 percent of the U.S. population every year, hospitalizing 140,000-710,000 and killing 12,000-56,000 persons. The majority of hospitalizations and deaths are in persons over the age of 65. In northeast Indiana, Allen County showed the highest incidence of influenza (388), followed by Noble (84) and LaGrange (76).

Conclusion.
Complications of influenza can be severe enough to cause death; attempts to vaccinate and prevent infection need to be encouraged, especially in areas of the highest prevalence.

When to vaccinate.
Is September too early? Not according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). The CDC and the ACIP recommend that flu vaccinations begin soon after the vaccine becomes available, ideally by October.

Since it takes approximately two weeks after vaccination for antibodies that protect against flu virus infection to develop in the body, it is best that people get vaccinated in time to be protected before flu viruses begin spreading in their community. Although immunity obtained from flu vaccination can vary by person, previously published studies suggest that immunity lasts through a full flu season for most people.

More flu FAQs.

  • Can I get the flu from the vaccine? Except for the FluMist – which has been taken off the market – all flu vaccines contain only pieces of the flu virus. It is impossible to get the flu from the vaccine.
  • How is influenza spread? Influenza spreads easily through droplets in the air when people cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouth or nose of people who are up to six feet away. Most healthy adults can infect others beginning one day before symptoms begin and up to five to seven days after becoming sick. Children may pass the virus for much longer.
  • Can I spread influenza to others even if I have no symptoms? Yes. Some people can be infected with the flu virus but have no symptoms. During this time, those persons may still spread the virus to others.
  • How long does immunity last from vaccination? Generally, a long time. Except for highly immune-compromised people, such as those on active chemotherapy or HIV + with low CD4 count, most people will get a nice antibody boost and will have immunity to the strains in the vaccine that will last well beyond the flu season. You can get vaccinated as soon as the vaccine becomes available. In fact, the CDC recommends that flu vaccinations begin soon after vaccine becomes available, given that the peak in the flu season can vary from year to year, and it takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop to protect against flu virus infection.
  • If I was vaccinated last year, then why do I need vaccinated again? For the many hundreds of different flu strains, there is a much smaller number of strains that are able to be grown and work well with vaccines. Strains for the flu season’s vaccine are picked to match circulating strains, but sometimes the matches aren’t the best. Sometimes, the circulating strain changes and “drifts” away from the match in the vaccine, as happened three flu seasons ago.

 

*More about The Student Research Fellowship Program.

For the last 30 years the Student Research Fellowship Program (SRFP) has provided summer research opportunities for medical and undergraduate students in Fort Wayne. The SRFP arose through the vision of former Assistant Dean and Director of Indiana University School of Medicine-Fort Wayne (IUSM-FW), Dr. Barth Ragatz, and the Midwest Alliance for Health Education, developed by Fort Wayne Cardiology under the direction of Dr. Michael Mirro, Dr. Robert Godley and Dick Robinson.

The SRFP matches students’ interest with basic science faculty members or physicians to provide hands-on research experience in bench or clinical research. SRFP sponsored research projects expose students to a large variety of medical and basic science disciplines, which have the potential to result in significant findings that can be published and incorporated into clinical practice. Undergraduate participants also receive expanded training in Institutional Review Board research study approval processes, research ethics, statistics, and presentation and writing skills that will improve their research skills and contributions to the projects.

Want more information? Visit the website or contact Gina Bailey at (260)481-6731, gibailey@iu.edu

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