We have been talking about winterizing your house and car in recent postings; we shouldn’t forget to winterize ourselves. Immunizations are about the best approach we have for primary prevention of disease. Here in Jefferson County, we learned a bit this year about what can happen if we are not vigilant in keeping our immunizations up to date. We had an outbreak of Whooping Cough that made state headlines.
Now we are about to enter the flu season; it is time to roll up our sleeves and get our shots. Influenza is a disease we combat every year and it is a sort of roulette wheel for the public health folks. There are three types of influenza viruses: A, B, and C, but that is only the beginning of the story. These three types are responsible for 306 human influenza viruses and influenza A viruses are further classified by subtype and both A subtypes and B viruses are also classified by strains. The H1N1 virus we saw worried about in the papers in 2009 is a strain of Influenza A. We also call it swine flu; we can worry about it again this year if we don’t get vaccinated.
Flu strains mutate all the time and every time a strain mutates and acts in a different way, it is given another name. What is really important though is to identify the strains that look like they will be active in the next flu season or are a real threat to humans. The folks who study flu predict which strains will be important and mix up a batch of flu vaccine that provides immunization against the strains they expect to see. Mostly they get it right, but sometimes a variant creeps in that isn’t covered.
The 2012 flu vaccine offers immunization for:
- A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)-like virus (same strain as 2011-2012 flu season)
- A/Victoria/361/2011 (H3N2)-like virus
- B/Wisconsin/1/2010-like virus.
The H1N1 strain is the only one in common with last year’s vaccine; the other two are new for this year.
Flu season usually peaks in January or February, but it can occur later and there are already cases reported this year in Washington State, so it’s time to get your shot as soon as possible for the greatest protection. If you worry about flu much and want to track it, there are great resources at the Centers for Disease Control and through the Washington State Department of Health.
Some people don’t like shots and would just as soon avoid getting one; don’t do that. Not only does flu vaccination help you as an individual, but as a community effort everyone who gets a flu shot helps their neighbor. These days, if you are in the right age range you can also get your vaccine as a nasal spray. When enough people are immunized, our community acquires what is known as “herd immunity” – the flu can’t jump from person to person because there are enough immune people to block the jump. There are people who should not get flu shots unless they consult their physicians – like people who are sick, have an allergy to chicken eggs, have had a reaction to an influenza vaccination or have a history of Guillain–Barré Syndrome. Also, kids under 6 months old should not get influenza vaccine. All these people depend on the rest of us to help protect them.
If you need to know where to get a flu shot or the newer flu nasal spray, go to the Washington Department of Health website at http://www.doh.wa.gov/YouandYourFamily/IllnessandDisease/Flu.aspx and enter your zip code.