Monday, December 17, 2012

Flu Season Begins

[Ed.: this is why Josh thinks you should get a flu vaccine. Image via NIAID.]

It has been a while since I have posted anything. I buried myself in graduate school and kinda shut everything else out for a while. I am studying the immune system so vaccinations and influenza fall into my area of interest. I started to notice more people have been calling into work sick in the past week or two. Seems that flu season is starting up a bit earlier than usual. There are at least 12 lab-confirmed cases in Washtenaw county already Flu Tracker Washtenaw County. If you were planning on getting vaccinated, now is the time to do so. For those of you who are unsure about the influenza vaccine or vaccines in general here's some general information....

 The Flu Vaccine is an inactive form of the virus (so you can't get the flu from this vaccine) that is grown in chicken eggs. CDC information

It is most commonly given as a intramuscular injection. There is also a form that is injected just under the skin. Inactivated flu vaccine

There is also a nasal mist form of the virus (which is a live but weakened form of the influenza virus) which you can take as well. Not so good for people with asthema or other complications with lungs, breathing and the like.  Flu Mist.

Guillain-BarrĂ© Syndrome (GBS) occurs when your immune system, for some unknown reason, attacks your peripheral nerves. This can cause muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis that people can recover from when they get treatment. Some people continue to claim that vaccinations can cause GBS. Most studies of have shown that there was a 1 in 100,000 chance of getting GBS when you got the 1976-77 swine flu vaccination, but none of the flu vaccinations since then have shown the same association. Vaccines and Guillain-BarrĂ© syndrome.

If you are allergic to eggs you should tell your doctor, or the person administering the vaccine before hand. Since the vaccine is grown in chicken eggs you can potentially have a severe allergic reaction to the vaccination.

Your chances of contracting a severe form of of the influenza virus far outweigh the chances that you will have severe complications from the vaccine.

The more people that get the vaccine the less prevalent the flu will be in the community, which means that those who are at risk for being hospitalized with severe influenza infections will be less likely to get them. So if you get a vaccination you will be protecting yourself and others around you. It's called herd immunity. Or community immunity... a much better name if you want to make a schoolhouse rock-style educational video.

The at-risk populations for this form of the influenza virus are people with weak/underdeveloped immune systems who may have trouble controlling the infection: very young, very old and people with immune deficiencies.

Vaccines contain adjuvants which ramp up immune responses. That is why, when you get a vaccine, you can get pain, redness and inflammation near the injection site. These adjuvants can sometimes produce cold-like symptoms like general soreness, sore throat, runny nose, etc. That's what happens when you ramp up immune responses. The idea is that a potential mini-cold induced by a vaccine is better than full blown influenza... it definitely is.