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6 Flu Myths Busted

6 Flu Myths Busted | Healthcare and Technology news |

There are almost as many misconceptions about the flu as there are different strains of the virus. And not having your flu facts straight can be bad for your health, said Dr. Gigi Chawla, senior medical director for primary care at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

To set the record straight, Chawla busts the top five flu related myths.

The flu vaccine contains unsafe chemicals like mercury and formaldehyde

Vaccines that come from a single dosage vial contain no added chemicals. Shots that come from multiple dose vials do contain a trace of chemical preservative to prevent bacterial growth but Chawla stressed that the amount is inconsequential.

“You get more mercury from the fish you eat,” Chawla said, pointing out that, unless you are allergic, adverse events from flu shots are extremely rare.

The flu vaccine causes the flu

This is patently false, Chawla said.

The spray mist, which contains an attenuated live virus, is too weak to make anyone sick and the shot only contains pieces of the virus and is therefore incapable of causing illness, she said.

Flu vaccines don’t work

It’s true that so far this year’s vaccine has not been very effective. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention admits that the vaccine is only about 33 percent effective in preventing the dominant strain of the flu virus currently circulating.

But the vaccine might still provide some cross protection, Chawla said. Flu subtypes that circulate later in the season may also be a better match for the vaccine, she said.

Flu vaccines are dangerous for kids

“Kids actually are the very people we want to protect,” Chawla said.

Because children under the age of 3 have an especially hard time fighting off the virus, they are most vulnerable to health complications that arise from the flu, Chawla said.

“Shots are matched for age and size so there is little danger of overdose,” she said.

The flu isn’t really dangerous so why vaccinate?

With heavy flu activity reported in at least 43 states, the CDC said an epidemic of the virus is under way. Already 26 children have died from complications of the flu this season, the agency reported. Hospitalizations and emergency room visits are way up too.

“People assume the flu is like a common cold but we expect somewhere around 35,000 people to die in the US. from the virus,” Chawla said.

Although children and the elderly are most likely to have serious flu symptoms, even healthy people can succumb, Chawla said.

It’s too late/too early to get the shot.

“You want to take every opportunity to protect yourself,” Chawla said. “Getting a shot in March might not even be too late for some people.”

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Is This Year's Flu Shot Any Good?

Is This Year's Flu Shot Any Good? | Healthcare and Technology news |

Flu season is taking off in the U.S. Over the last two weeks, I’ve seen an increasing number of feverish, achey, glassy-eyed patients testing positive for influenza A, most of whom were not vaccinated. My experience tracks well with the CDC’s flu surveillance. Vaccinations were available early enough this year that I’ve been able to give shots to many patients in time. Unfortunately, the CDC is reporting that so far, this year’s vaccine is not a great match for the flu that is going around.

But what does this mean?

First, the news is not all bad. Usually, even “bad” flu vaccines provide some protection. But let’s get into some of the details.

Each year, epidemiologists follow the influenza virus as it makes its way around the globe. This surveillance has been very good over the years, but once in a while there is a gap in coverage. Most flu vaccines cover three strains* of flu, often two strains of flu A and one of flu B (there is another shot that has a second B strain). The last several years, the dominant strain has been A but there are many different types of flu A.

Influenza A types are named based on the types of proteins they carry: hemagglutinin (H) and neuraminidase (N). The flu pandemic in 2009 was caused by a type A(H1N1). So far this year, an A (H3) virus is winning the fight. Of the 85 samples that have been tested so far, 48% are the H3N2 included in this year’s vaccines, but the rest are similar to H3N2 subtypes that were not included in this year’s shots.

While concerning, this is not a disaster. First, very few samples have been tested so far. As the season progresses we’ll have more data to make judgements. If the current trends hold (and there’s no guarantee), the flu shot still covers nearly half the circulating viruses very well, and probably offers partial protection against the rest. Even with the “mismatch”, the flu shot still offers significant protection.

If you haven’t yet gotten your flu shot, get to it. There’s no down side, and the protection, while not perfect, might still save you weeks of misery, and perhaps even your life.

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Flu: Bad Season Getting Worse

Flu: Bad Season Getting Worse | Healthcare and Technology news |

The fluis increasing in intensity and spreading throughout much of the country, the CDC said in its weekly flu update.

And it will get worse before it gets better.

“Flu activity is expected to continue in the coming weeks, with increases occurring especially in those states that have not yet had significant activity,” according to the CDC.

“Nationally, the country is likely to continue to experience several more weeks of flu activity. … Most of the northeast and west of the country has yet to experience the full brunt of the flu season.”

Only one state, Hawaii, reported “sporadic” flu activity through Dec. 27, according to the agency. Six more -- California, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, Alaska, and Maine -- reported significant activity, along with Puerto Rico. The flu was at “widespread” levels in the other 43 states, an increase from 36 the previous week.

Another six flu-associated deaths of children were reported, bringing the total to 21 this season. With the exception of the 2009 flu pandemic, deaths of children from the flu have ranged from 37 to 171 since 2004-2005, when they began to be reported, the CDC said.

The CDC doesn't track adult deaths from the flu. But the number of deaths in which pneumonia or influenza was listed -- which was at an “epidemic threshold” for the week ending Dec. 20 -- has declined this week. It's “once again below the epidemic threshold,” the agency says. The flu season is said to have reached epidemic levels when the proportion of deaths attributed to pneumonia and the flu reaches a certain level. That threshold changes week to week.

Get Vaccinated, Officials Say

This year’s dominant flu strain is H3N2, a type of the flu virus that tends to be more serious, officials have said. It’s also “drifted” from the strains included in the flu vaccine, meaning the vaccine is not as effective as hoped.

Seasons dominated by H3 viruses tend to have more hospitalizations and deaths, CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, said last year.

So far, H3N2 viruses account for more than 95% of all flu cases reported to the CDC this season.

Get Vaccinated, Officials Say

Although the vaccine hasn’t worked as well as hoped, health officials continue to recommend it. It still can prevent infection with some flu strains and flu-related complications in some people. Also, it’s common for there to be two waves of flu activity during a typical season, with the second caused by a different flu virus, the CDC says. As of early November, only 40% of people in the U.S. reported getting a flu vaccine this year.

Health officials also recommend antiviral drugs to treat the flu in some people, including children or those who are very ill or at risk of flu-related complications. The drugs can help shorten the length of the flu and make it less severe. But media reports suggest that at least one of those drugs, Tamiflu, might be in short supply in some areas.

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