What I Learned About the Flu Shot From The Diane Rehm Show

Steve listens to informative programs on NPR on a regular basis.

I listen to Kids Bop, Kung Fu Panda, and Disney Princess Sing-Along.

A few days ago, I made a quick trip Logan. The kids were in school, so I listened to The Diane Rehm Show.

This is what I learned:

This year's flu season started early and is hitting hard.

But it's actually not nearly as severe as is being portrayed by the media.

There is a seasonal flu epidemic every year.

Vaccination is the best way to prevent a disease that affects a large percentage of the population.

Each year, people around the world develop immunity to the circulating strains of flu, so the virus evolves to a different strain to escape that immunity and will infect people the next year.

Flu shot vaccines can protect people from severe sickness that can lead to hospitalization, and even death.

It takes two weeks before the flu shot becomes effective.

Even then, the flu vaccine is only about 60 percent effective. (There are many childhood vaccines that are very close to 100 percent effective.)

The vaccine is the least effective in people over 65 years; that's where 90 percent of the deaths occur.

The flu shot is still, by far, the best tool to prevent the flu.

Herd, or community, immunity is very important.

The current flu vaccine has three different flu strains in them (two A strains and one B strais), which match about 90 percent of the flu viruses that are circulating.

In another year or two, scientists will be able to create a flu vaccine that will have four different strains, which will match almost 100 percent of the flu viruses.

Covering 100 percent of the strains does not make it 100 percent effective. Scientists are still working to increase flu vaccine effectiveness.

A good "match" doesn't always predict effectiveness.

Five research centers throughout the world work together with the World Health Organization to predict what type of influenza strains are likely to cause disease in the subsequent season.

Each individual country around the world makes the final decision how to formulate their vaccine. In the United States, that decision is made by the Food & Drug Administration.

A public emergency has been declared in Boston because they recently saw a ten-fold increase in flu cases (from 70 to over 700 cases and 4 deaths).

A pandemic of influenza is when a new strain emerges that leaves a large part of the population vulnerable, with the potential to kill millions of people.

Even in a moderate year, influenza can cause thousands of hospitalizations and hundreds of deaths.

There are a lot of other sicknesses and viruses that are going around that are incorrectly referred to as "the flu" (RSV, Norovirus).

Treatment with antivirals can shorten how long you will be sick with influenza, although there is only a short time period where they are appropriate to be used.

Antiviral medication, like Tamiflu, interferes with the viruses ability to propagate.

A person needs to start antiviral medication very soon after becoming affected for it to be effective.

This year, all of the flu viruses are sensitive to Tamiflu.

The flu shot cannot cause the flu.

The injectable flu vaccine is not live and just exposes people to inactivated proteins. The body's immune response develops antibodies to fight off the infection, which later provide protection, should the person become infected.

Remember that the flu shot takes two weeks to be effective, and even then it is only about sixty percent effective. In addition, people can also come down with a different respiratory virus near the same time that they got the flu shot and believe that the flu shot gave them the flu.

The nasal spray flu vaccine contains live viruses that have been weakened and cannot cause the flu illness.

Some people (most often children) will experience mild reactions including runny nose, nasal congestion, cough, chills, sore throat, and fever.

The weakened viruses on the nasal spray flu vaccine are cold-adapted, which means they are designed to only cause infection at the cooler temperatures found within the nose. The viruses cannot infect the lungs or other areas where warmer temperatures exist.

The side effects caused by the nasal vaccine are mild and short-lasting, especially when compared to the symptoms of the influenza infection.

The nasal spray flu vaccine has been shown to be very effective in young kids.

Physician offices have seen lots of healthy young adults. The type who think they are invincible to illness and didn't bother to get immunized.

Over 128 million flu vaccine doses have been distributed in the United States.

There is still time to be vaccinated. Parts of the country, particularly in the West, are still seeing steep increases.

Flu activity usually peaks in January or February, but seasonal flu activity can continue to occur as late as May.

P.S. I actually took notes while I was listening to the program because I was testing out the voice-to-text feature on my new iPhone.

P.P.S. I am really good at talking like a robot.

P.P.P.S. After watching Fatal Distraction on RockCenter the other night, I have vowed to never again send text messages while driving.


Natalie B. said...

Glad you are up late blogging too. So interesting and so bummed we didn't all get our flu shots this year! Yes, no texting while driving. I was texting you at stop lights the other day. Does that count? Hope you guys stay healthy.

emily ballard said...

We always get flu shots, but Steve has been really slow to get in this year. . . which is silly since he's the most susceptible in our family. He's finally going today! He also gets a pneumonia shot.

In Utah, you can get a ticket for texting at a red light!

Courtney said...

We like our flu shots, especially since I teach school. Don't want to bring anything nasty home and really, for the past several years we have been healthy all year (knock on wood). I loved catching up on your blog. I had no idea all the drama going on with you, Derrick is so lucky to have you and Steve there to support him.

Rebecca said...

Thanks for sharing that Fatal Distraction link. That was a good wakeup call for me and I am going to stop texting too! I was looking for an ap to help me with this new goal and I found some great ideas in this article: http://articles.latimes.com/2012/nov/08/business/la-fi-tn--texting-driving-apps-20121107 and I am downloading the DriveSafe.ly ap right now. I'll let you know how it goes.

Rebecca said...

Nevermind about the ap I mentioned...it just reads your texts (which is still distracting) I am still looking for one that works with verizon that sends people a msg saying I am driving if they text me while I am driving.

@udj said...

I have never had a flu shot, nor has anyone in my family. I found your "robotic" :) facts very informative. I hope we can still be friends. :)