Flu is dampening holiday spirit, Loyola infectious disease expert says

News Archive December 15, 2014

Flu is dampening holiday spirit, Loyola infectious disease expert says

MAYWOOD, Ill. – Vomiting, diarrhea and fever – that’s what many people are experiencing this holiday season as the seasonal flu grips Chicago.

“Loyola documented several cases of the flu before Thanksgiving and we now have confirmed more than 120 cases of patients with the flu, which is early to start and also a high number,” said Jorge Parada, MD, MPH, FACP, FIDSA, FSHEA, medical director of the Infection Prevention & Control program at Loyola University Health System.

“If you haven’t gotten your flu shot yet, put it at the top of your to-do list and get it now," added Parada, also a professor at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

Despite the recent reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that the flu vaccine is not effective against certain active strains, Parada urged everyone to still get vaccinated.

“If you have not gotten your flu shot, get it as soon as possible,” he said. “There are many varieties of flu and the flu vaccine still offers protection."

He advised everyone to wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water or hand sanitizer to minimize risks. Parada and other Loyola physicians have seen a large spike in flu cases in the past few weeks.

“Just in the last week Loyola had more than double the number of lab-confirmed cases of flu that we had during the peak week of last season – and it isn’t over yet."

Debunking flu fallacies

Parada has heard every excuse associated with the flu vaccination and offered his expertise.

“The flu vaccine doesn’t work this year so what’s the point?"

Parada: The flu shot actually contains three flu vaccines. One is directed against Influenza A type H1N1, one is directed against Influenza A type H3N2 and the third is directed against Influenza B.  So far we think that the Influenza A H1N1 and the Influenza B are spot on. It is only one form of flu, the Influenza A type H3N2, that has mutated to a form that is only partially covered by the current vaccine.

While there are two types of H3N2 flu circulating now, about 48 percent of flu cases match the strain in the vaccine. The remaining 52 percent of flu cases are not an exact match. Either way there is still a protective effect from the vaccine. So if you catch the flu, it is likely that you will have a more mild case of the flu. Who really wants to get sicker than you have to? So there are multiple flu varieties that circulate every winter and the vaccine will offer protection against most of them.

“I got the flu already so I don’t need a flu shot."

Parada: Typically there are three strains of flu that circulate during the flu season and the flu vaccine protects against all three. So even if you’ve had the flu, get your flu shot so you do not get the flu a couple of more times.

“It’s too late; the flu is already here."

Parada: The flu season usually peaks in early February and lasts well into April, so it is not too late to get a flu shot. Plus, so far only one type of flu seems to have arrived in the area. We still expect new strains to arrive. To me it is simple – get the flu shot before the flu gets you.

“I got a flu shot last year."

Parada: Just like everyone can catch the flu every season, everyone needs to get a flu shot every year. The immunization lasts for one season and also the formula changes. This year’s flu vaccine is different than that of last year, for example. Also, the protective effect of the flu shot tends to wear down over time, so even while this year’s flu shot might have some match to last year’s flu shot, getting a new flu shot will act as a booster to your defenses.

“The flu shot makes you sick."

Parada: It takes about two weeks to build immunity after receiving the flu shot, so if you catch the flu around the time of your flu shot it wasn’t because the vaccine gave it to you. Rather it was because you caught the flu before the vaccine had time to kick in and protect you. I have been an infectious disease specialist for more than 25 years and I have never seen evidence of anyone catching the flu from the flu shot.

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