Protect yourself against influenza this year

This year, a number of vaccines are being offered to target multiple flu strains. Image: CDC

Cool weather is approaching, which means more of our time will be spent indoors. The opportunity for our hands to pick up a virus will be everywhere. These opportunities can range from supermarket carts to door knobs and railings to shared keyboards and phones. Travelers are particularly at risk as they touch multiple public surfaces. If our hands pick up a virus and we touch our mouth, eyes, and nose, the cascade of events begins, as the virus now has an opportunity to enter our system. It can also begin if infected droplets are inhaled from talking, sneezing or coughing.

The influenza (flu) virus can be one of these viruses. Once in our system, the flu virus is contagious for a day or so prior to symptoms and continue until five to 10 days after symptoms begin. Initially, it may seem like a common cold, but unlike a cold, the flu comes on suddenly, and you will feel much worse. You may have a fever over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or simply feel feverish with chills and sweats. Also, you may suffer from aching muscles, headache, fatigue, weakness, sore throat, nasal congestion and a dry, persistent cough. Most people will recover in a few days to less than two weeks, but some may develop complications that can be serious and life threatening.

Illness from the flu is preventable. Basic hygienic measures remain critical throughout the year. At a minimum, this includes frequent hand washing, keeping hands away from one’s face, and sneezing or coughing into your sleeve or tissue. The biggest bang for the buck is to receive a yearly flu vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that all people over 6 months of age without contraindications receive a flu vaccine before the end of October. Travelers should receive a vaccination at least 2 weeks prior to travel. Those who are particularly vulnerable to the flu and its serious complications should be immunized. This includes those who live in a residential facility, are pregnant, obese, have a weakened immune system from illness or medications, or have a chronic illness such as asthma, diabetes or heart problems.

Influenza is a contagious respiratory virus that typically circulates from October to May. The World Health Organization uses surveillance data to make their recommendations for the current flu vaccine components. 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. Of the many different flu viruses, the three that most commonly circulate and cause disease are the influenza A (H1N1), influenza A (H3N2) and influenza B viruses. The vaccine viruses included in the 2017-2018 U.S. influenza vaccines are:

  • A/Michigan/45/2015 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus
  • A/Hong Kong/4801/2014 (H3N2)-like virus
  • B/Brisbane/60/2008-lie virus (Victoria lineage)
  • B/Phuket/3073/2014 -like virus (Yamagata lineage) (additional for quadrivalent vaccine)

Fermilab is offering the Seqirus Flucelvax Quadrivalent vaccine in mid-October. Information pertaining to the upcoming flu vaccine clinic for Fermilab will be available on the ESH&Q websites on Oct. 4.

Contraindications to receiving the vaccine include a severe allergic reaction to egg proteins, neomycin, polymyxin, latex; a serious reaction to a previous influenza vaccine; and an occurrence of Guillian-Barre syndrome within six weeks following receipt of a flu 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.

Starting today, implement the basic hygienic measures, avoid crowds where infections can spread easily, maintain a strong immunity by getting adequate sleep, drinking plenty of water, and, should you become ill, stay home so that you do not infect others.

Sign up for the 2017-18 influenza vaccine and have a healthy winter season!

Caroline F. Hetfield is a board-certified adult nurse practitioner.