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Flu vaccine may be less effective

In February, World Health Organization researchers identified three or four strains of flu they thought would infect the northern hemisphere, based on what made people sick in the southern hemisphere’s most recent flu season.

Then, a vaccine was created to combat the disease. This is the usual approach to developing a vaccine, and usually works about 50 percent of the time. Problem is, the makeup of the virus can change through constant mutation of the virus thus lessening the effective potential of the vaccine.

A commentary published in the “New England Journal of Medicine” estimates the current vaccine is only 10 percent effective against this year’s main flu strain, called H3N2. This is a particularly nasty strain, and this holiday season, we are seeing a near “epidemic” throughout our region of this dreaded illness.

Kentucky is one of the 10 states reporting the highest incidence of “influenza-like illness.” Even so, it is still worth receiving a small shot in the arm because it does provide protection against several strains of the flu.

Most of us know a little about it, but we all should be aware of certain facts. Such as how we get the flu, how it is spread and how we can prevent it.

The flu is a contagious respiratory illness that causes symptoms such as sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, coughing, fever, muscle aches, fatigue and sometimes, especially in young children, vomiting and diarrhea. The flu is typically caused by airborne droplets that are dispersed from an infected individual by coughing, sneezing or just talking near other people.

Just touching an object that is infected with the virus, such as doorknobs, then touching your own mouth, eye or nose can infect your body. Even shaking hands with someone who has coughed or sneezed into their own hand can pose a risk.

While everybody is at risk, the elderly, young children and those with certain medical conditions are more so.

The contagious period, or when the virus is active in spreading from one individual to another, is from one day before symptoms occur and up to seven days after becoming ill.

There are a number of possible residual complications of the flu, including bacterial pneumonia, ear and sinus infections and worsening of chronic medical conditions such as congestive heart failure, diabetes and asthma.

Frequent hand washing is one of the best ways in preventing any type of infection. The overall best prevention is to be vaccinated.

Vaccines begin to work two weeks after vaccination by developing antibodies within that protect against flu infection. The vaccine protects against the three most likely infectious viruses as determined by scientific research. These are Influenza A (H1N1) virus, Influenza A (H3N2) virus and Influenza B virus.

While most viral flu infections will be caused by one of these three, the vaccine cannot protect against flu-like illnesses caused by non-influenza viruses. This accounts for some people who believe they got the flu “because” they took the flu shot.

While the vaccination is considered safe, there are some people who should not be vaccinated because of allergy to eggs or certain medical conditions. A pharmacist or health care provider can always answer concerns or questions about taking the flu shot.

Michael Hughes is the Jessamine County Coroner.