When was the last time you said, “Just shoot me,” and meant it?
I’m giving you a chance today to un-ring that bell. It is fall, and it is also the start of the 2016-17 influenza epidemic. The CDC tells us that every year influenza qualifies for “epidemic” status. It is an evolving threat that is a little bit different each year – just different enough to outwit your immune system.
This year’s cast includes:
- A/CA H1N1 is a variant on the 1918 Spanish Flu (which killed millions) and was the major influenza virus in 2009.
- A/Hong Kong H3N2 is a Swine Flu variant. It has been very active the last few flu seasons. It is highly resistant to the antiviral drugs amantadine and rimantadine.
- B/Brisbane/60/2008-like virus. This is a southern hemisphere B influenza virus that only infects humans (and seals). The B viruses are less severe, and mutate (change) more slowly.
This year we have a brand new and proven effective influenza vaccine for 2016-17. No nose spray is available; it did not provide enough protection in testing. But don’t worry – the shot doesn’t hurt much. We use a tiny needle, and the vaccine is not irritating to tissue.
Once you get a flu shot, you steadily develop immunity to each of these influenza viruses. It takes nine days to become fully immune, so get your flu shot early. Studies have been done that show immunity persists through the flu season no matter how early you get it. The vaccine is already available.
If you decide to gamble and skip the flu shot, and you get the flu, we are happy to treat you with antivirals. Keep in mind, if you have Hong Kong flu, the antivirals won’t work. The only way to avoid possibly being infected with the Hong Kong flu is to be vaccinated.
Perhaps you wonder if getting a flu shot is worth the hassle or the money. Studies have been done to compare the doctor visits, hospitalizations and mortality of vaccinated versus non-vaccinated individuals. People who are vaccinated are about $50 ahead. Really, all there is to worry about is the hassle factor, a five-minute drive and a wait only long enough to fill out one short form.
Compare that to a 102-104 degree fever, headache, intense body aches and coughing hard enough to feel like you might turn your lungs inside out. Ask anyone in the middle of that if they would turn back the clock and get a flu shot. There would likely be an emphatic “yes!”
Put a flu shot high on your to-do list, and stay well.
Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B) is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing clinical occupational medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B. works in our Scottsdale, Arizona clinic.