You’re probably more aware than you care to be that influenza is a highly infectious viral illness. It causes moderate to severe illness in all age groups around the world. Common symptoms of the flu include fever, body aches, fatigue, cough, sore throat and congestion. In recent years, averages of 20,000 preventable deaths and 200,000 hospitalizations annually have been associated with influenza. Cardiopulmonary and chronic diseases can be exacerbated by influenza. We can prevent this by taking an annual flu shot each year. All major medical organizations, including the CDC (Center for Disease Control), the American College of Physicians and the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommend that all people over the age of 6 months get a yearly flu vaccine.
Each year we seem to be bombarded with news of new varieties of flu vaccines for specific groups. The 2013-2014 season is no exception. The new quadrivalent vaccine is making its way on the market and consists of 4 strains of influenza – the 2 predominant type A strains that we see each year in the trivalent vaccine and 2 type B strains. The second strain of B primarily affects children and young adults. Experts agree that the new quadrivalent vaccine will significantly reduce influenza hospitalizations and deaths in this younger age group. It is also recommended for all health care workers and international travelers who may need broader protection this season. However, the vaccine is new, and availability is limited.
The flu mist, which is a nasal form of the flu vaccine (for those who are needle phobic) typically given to children 2 and over and adults up to age 49, is only available as a quadrivalent vaccine. Therefore, if you are in the young adult/child age group, you may consider getting the flu mist if the quadrivalent vaccine is not available. Pregnant women, asthmatic patients and immunocompromised patients should not get the flu mist.
The good news for those with severe allergies to egg products is that there is the new non-egg formulation of flu vaccine this year. Its release date is still unknown at this time. The traditional trivalent influenza vaccine is widely available this year and is formulated as the intramuscular vaccine (0.5cc) or the intradermal vaccine (0.1cc). The intradermal vaccine has a smaller needle, is injected superficially, and may cause less pain on injection. This is licensed for people 15-64. Older adults (65+) will have a choice of the primary trivalent flu vaccine or the high-dose 65+ vaccine (Fluzone). Fluzone High-Dose vaccine contains four times the amount of antigen contained in regular flu shots. If you are over 65, do you need to go out of your way to get the high dose vaccine? So far the clinical trials on the high dose vaccine show higher antibody response but no evidence yet that it is better at preventing the flu. The clinical trial results will be released in 2014-2015. At this point, neither the CDC nor the ACIP (Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices) supports one type of flu vaccine over another.
In summary, there are many options for effective prevention of influenza. Unless there’s a reason not to, most of us should be sure to get the flu vaccine this fall. Because influenza can cause significant illness and even death, please make time to get the vaccine. Pregnant women especially should get the injectable flu vaccine to prevent themselves and their unborn babies from severe illness. For more information on the flu vaccine, check out the CDC website: http://www.cdc.gov/FLU/about/qa/flushot.htm#high-risk.