Very soon the autumn season will officially arrive. Cooler temperatures will kick in and more time will be spent indoors. The influenza (flu) virus is spread more easily indoors, and it can survive on hard surfaces for two to eight hours. Transferring germs to our nose, mouth or eyes by our fingers may set the stage for infection with the flu. Our immune system may overcome the viruses in our upper respiratory tract if we are getting regular exercise, eating nutritious foods, drinking water regularly and sleeping well. If our immune system is compromised or we have a chronic illness, we may begin to experience symptoms of the flu: fever, headache, achiness, weakness, fatigue, sore throat, cough and congestion.
Once exposed, it may take one to four days to become ill. Twenty-four hours prior to your feeling any symptoms, the flu can be transmitted to others. Influenza is a highly contagious acute febrile illness that can have a variable course, from mild symptoms to serious illness and death. It is caused by a virus that circulates in the Northern Hemisphere from October through May, the Southern Hemisphere from April through September, and throughout the year in the tropics.
The influenza A virus consists of genes surrounded by 10 or 11 proteins. Two of these proteins are primarily responsible for illness, hemagglutinin (H) and neuraminidase (N). Of the 17 H and nine N types identified, the ones that primarily cause influenza in humans are hemagglutinins 1, 2 and 3 and neuraminidases 1 and 2. Hence we see the most common H3N2 and H1N1 as components of the flu vaccines. Variations in flu vaccine are necessary every year because mutations of influenza viruses are ongoing; Antibodies protective for one type or subtype confer limited or no protection from another type or subtype. The World Health Organization tracks the circulating viruses and submits recommendations for vaccine components expected to be the most common during the upcoming season in the Northern Hemisphere. A final determination for the United States is made by the Federal Drug Administration.
Information pertaining to the upcoming flu vaccine clinic for Fermilab will follow. Please check Fermilab at Work and your interoffice mailbox for announcements about the vaccine.
Fermilab is offering Fluvirin, an inactivated influenza virus vaccine indicated for active immunizations against the following three influenza viruses:
- A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)-like virus
- A/Hong Kong/4801/2014 (H3N2)-like virus
- B/Brisbane/60/2008-like virus (Victoria lineage) virus
Contraindications to receiving the vaccine include a severe allergic reaction to egg proteins, thimerosal, neomycin, polymyxin, latex; a serious reaction to a previous influenza vaccine; and an occurrence of Guillain-Barre syndrome within six weeks prior to the receipt of an influenza vaccine. It is recommended that these individuals seek immunization from their primary physician or allergist.
Influenza vaccine is generally well-tolerated. The most common adverse events occurring in adults within seven days of vaccination were pain and erythema at the injection site, headache, fatigue, myalgia and malaise.
To prevent the spread of influenza, wash your hands frequently and vigorously for at least 15 seconds, ideally with soap and water, or use alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Additional measures include coughing into a tissue or the inner crook of your elbow and avoiding crowds where infections can spread easily. Maintain a strong immune system by getting adequate sleep, drinking plenty of water, and avoiding touching your mouth, nose and eyes. If you become ill, stay home so that you do not infect others.
Let’s be prepared for the 2016-17 flu season!
Caroline F. Hetfield is a board-certified adult nurse practitioner.