Vaccine's vital to prevent another deadly flu outbreak

Monday, October 1, 2018

Here’s a quiz for you.

Which claimed more American lives:

A.The war in Vietnam

B. The 2017 influenza season

If you guessed B, you were right. Officially, 58,220 Americans died in Vietnam, but according to preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 80,000 died from the flu last year.

It was the deadliest flu season since 1976, but even in a “good” year, influenza can kill 12,000 to 56,000 people in the United States. You’re more likely to die from the flu than from gun violence, a car wreck or opioid overdose.

Don’t confuse flu with “stomach flu,” gastroenteritis which is an intestinal infection marked by diarrhea, cramps, nausea, vomiting, and fever. Influenza is a viral respiratory disease, which caused high fevers, headaches, coughs, muscle pains and runny noses.

Influenza comes in four versions, A, B, C and D, and it’s A and B that usually appear as seasonal flu.

As a virus, it’s invulnerable to antibiotics and is harder to prevent.

The virus is “sloppy” in reproducing itself genetically, creating different varieties every year and complicating the creation of effective vaccines.

Producing flu shots takes many months, and pharmaceutical companies must make their best guess as to which strain will dominate for the following flu season.

Last year’s strain was mostly H3N2, which is especially deadly among vulnerable groups like the elderly, children or those with compromised immune systems, like pregnant women.

It’s a difficult infection to prevent, and these vaccines were only about 33 percent effective.

Even if the vaccine isn’t a good match for this year’s flu, it can help prevent other versions of the virus, officials say.

Flu vaccines, like any inoculation, carry a small amount of risk, but the risk is worth taking when compared to the risk of actually contracting influenza.

Flu has already been detected in Southwest Nebraska, so it’s important to get your flu shot as soon as possible, according to authorities. If you do delay, there’s still plenty of time before the traditional end of the flu season in the spring.

Even if you think you can get through a bout of flu without too much suffering, you can pass it on to someone who might not be so strong.

Check with your healthcare provider or local health department about getting a flu vaccination.

Whether or not you actually do get the shot, it’s smart to wash your hands carefully, cover your mouth when you cough and stay home if you’re sick.

There’s more on seasonal flu and vaccinations on the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services website here.

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