Immunity for the Community

October 31st, 2017

Oct. 31, 2017 — Everybody rolls up their sleeves at JPS, getting a flu shot to help protect our patients, families and the community. What’s in store over the coming months? Dr. Jeffrey Tessier, MD, an infectious disease specialist and director of Antimicrobial Stewardship at JPS, says flu season, like the illness itself, can be unpredictable.

Dr. Jeffrey Tessier

Dr. Jeffrey Tessier

Q:  What does the upcoming flu season look like?

A:  So far there has been only sporadic activity, so it’s anyone’s guess. We do know that the strains of influenza circulating so far this year are the same as last year, influenza A (H3N2), A (H1N1) and a B virus, and the vaccine is the same as last year. When it comes to flu, you can always get a surprise case. That’s why we need to be prepared as possible.

Q:  Lots of people know somebody who got the flu weeks or months after getting vaccinated. How does that happen?

A:  It’s likely that they didn’t get as sick as they would have without having been vaccinated, and that they recovered more quickly than they would have otherwise. Vaccines lower the risk, but none are 100 percent effective. According to the federal government, flu vaccine reduces the risk of flu by 40-60 percent. This is going to vary from year to year, of course, according to how well each year’s vaccine is matched with the strains of flu circulating in the community.

Q:  We all know you can’t get the flu from being vaccinated, but some people do feel under the weather a day or two after their shot. Why?

A: The vaccine works by triggering a response from your immune system, allowing you to build up antibodies ready to go to work if you get exposed to the flu. Because we are all genetically different, we all respond differently. Some people may experience short-lived symptoms such as mild fever and muscle aches. That’s not the flu; that’s a sign that your immune system responded vigorously to the vaccine.

Sometimes people relate their flu shot to symptoms of another virus to which they were exposed, coincidentally, at about the same time. Most times we are not aware of having been exposed — in the grocery store, at the mall, in a theater — and all viruses have an incubation period. Many viruses are more prevalent during flu season, including respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), coronavirus, the common cold and others.

Ralph Waldo Emerson Jr

Ralph Waldo Emerson Jr., immediate past chair of the JPS Board of Managers, rolls up his sleeve for a flu shot at JPS.

Q:  I’m in good health and have none of the risk factors for the flu’s life-threatening complications. Why do I have to get a shot anyway?

A:  People with existing chronic health issues, such as asthma and chronic lung or heart disease, are at higher risk of developing severe complications — pneumonia, sinus and ear infections, myocarditis, encephalitis and sepsis. Being healthy doesn’t mean your risk is zero. Why would you want ANY risk for an illness capable of taking you out of the game for weeks or even months? By increasing herd immunity, you lower the chances of severe illness for everyone. Sure, you might not become severely ill, but your grandmother might if she catches the flu from you.

Q:  How can I tell if I’m coming down with the flu?

A: Early on, the flu can look like a lot of other viruses, causing symptoms like fever, body aches, sore throat, cough, runny or stuffy nose, headache, fatigue. It’s best to find out as soon as possible by seeing a healthcare provider for a rapid influenza test. That’s because the anti-viral medication Tamiflu works best the sooner you start taking it, preferably one or two days after symptoms appear.

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