Seasonal Influenza Protection

Pregnant woman getting the flu shot

Yearly Influenza Protection:
Why It’s Important

Now more than ever it’s important to get your yearly flu vaccine, no matter what your age or health, especially since COVID-19 risk continues.

Influenza vaccination offers key health protection for all. Most importantly, it staves off potentially severe illness and even death for those populations susceptible to health complications directly related to influenza infection: babies, older people, pregnant women, and those trying to conceive. Plus, those populations with compromised immune systems.

Remaining populations opting to get flu protection via vaccine or nasal spray gain added health protection should they become infected. Those who get a yearly flu vaccine are less likely to suffer severe flu symptoms or develop complications, often avoiding doctor visits or requiring hospitalization. In 2018, the U.S. flu vaccine was about 40% effective in reducing flu symptom severity enough to eliminate doctor care or hospital treatment, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC.)

Yet a recent survey conducted by Families Fighting Flu, an advocacy group made up of people with a family member who became severely ill or died from the flu, found more than 40% of respondents didn’t believe in the importance of getting yearly influenza vaccine as part of their annual personal health plan.

Additionally, more than 50% of those eligible to get a yearly influenza vaccine don’t receive it, according to CDC, even with ample availability of yearly vaccines. On average 170 million flu vaccine doses are manufactured each year, according to CDC, with upward of 190 million flu vaccines available during the 2020-2021 flu season complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

What’s more, CDC confirms disparities within specific U.S. populations failing to obtain yearly flu protection, even with ample flu vaccine manufactured. CDC data indicates lower rates of flu vaccine protection occur among younger adults and those with African American or Hispanic heritage.

Even with ample flu vaccines available, millions of potentially life-saving doses go unused each year.

Your local Capital Women’s Care team wants to empower you with important information about the importance of yearly influenza vaccines, including explanation of available flu protection; general eligibility guidelines for receiving influenza vaccine; influenza complication risks and those flu complications specific to susceptible populations, including babies, older people, women who are trying to conceive, those who are pregnant, and those populations with compromised immune systems or chronic health conditions; and healthy habits to implement to avoid flu infection.

Flu Season and Vaccine Basics

In the U.S., flu season is considered October through May. During the 35-year period between 1976 and 2011, flu activity most often peaked in February. Other high-ranking months for flu activity include January, March and December.

Seasonal influenza, or flu, is a dangerous illness on its own that can affect people of all ages and health. Preliminary CDC data for the 2019-2020 flu season (ending May 2020) indicate flu factored into at least 18 million visits to U.S. healthcare providers. In that same time frame, flu directly contributed to 410,000 hospitalizations and 64,000 deaths within the U.S. Flu continues to be solely responsible for tens of thousands of hospitalizations and deaths each year, while sidelining millions more within all age brackets for several days to weeks.

Seasonal flu symptoms to watch for include:

  • fever
  • chills
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • muscle and/or body aches
  • headaches
  • and general fatigue.

It’s important to monitor flu symptoms and know emergency warning signs requiring immediate emergency treatment.

CDC recommends annual influenza vaccination for everyone 6 months and older with any licensed, age-appropriate flu vaccine.

Flu vaccination protects not only your health, but also protects the health of loved ones within your family and community, especially those facing greater flu complication risks: babies, older people, pregnant women and those with compromised immunities.

Available Flu Protection

There are 2 primary types of flu protection available:

Trivalent flu vaccines protect against 3 different flu viruses and are made using an adjuvant (an ingredient that helps create a stronger immune response.) These are approved for those age 65 years and older.

Quadrivalent flu vaccines protect against 4 different flu viruses. Standard-dose quadrivalent influenza shots are manufactured using virus grown in hens’ eggs.

Different influenza shots are licensed for different age groups:

A quadrivalent cell-based influenza shot contains virus grown in cell culture and is licensed for those age 4 years and older. This vaccine is egg-free.

A recombinant quadrivalent influenza shot, an egg-free vaccine, is approved for those age 18 years and older.

A quadrivalent flu shot using an adjuvant (an ingredient that helps create a stronger immune response) is approved for those age 65 years and older.

A quadrivalent high-dose influenza vaccine is licensed for those age 65 years and older.

Most influenza shots are given via intramuscular injection in the arm. One quadrivalent influenza shot (Afluria Quadrivalent) can be given either via needle (for those age 6 months and older) or with a jet injector (for those age 18 through 64 years only).

Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine (LAIV) nasal spray is approved for those age 2 through 49 years.  Live attenuated influenza vaccine should not be given to pregnant women, those who are immunocompromised, and some other groups.

If you have questions about which vaccine is best for you or your family, talk to your healthcare practitioner.

When to Get Flu Protection

All people ages 6 months and older should get a flu vaccine every year.

It’s important to get a flu vaccine before flu viruses begin spreading within your community, since it takes about 2 weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide flu protection.

Plan to get vaccinated early in fall before flu season begins. CDC recommends that people get a flu vaccine by the end of October.

However, getting vaccinated early (for example, in July or August) is likely to be associated with reduced protection against flu infection later in the flu season, particularly among older adults.

Vaccination should continue to be offered throughout the flu season, even into January or later.

Children who need 2 doses of vaccine to be protected should start the vaccination process sooner, because the 2 doses must be given at least 4 weeks apart.

How Flu Protection Is Determined

Influenza vaccines are determined at the end of flu season (February in the Northern Hemisphere and September in the Southern Hemisphere) based on the prevalent strains spread throughout the previous year’s influenza season.

Extensive research indicates the previous flu season’s 4 prevalent strains are those most likely to infiltrate the population during the next consecutive influenza season. This information decides the protective factors in the vaccine. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determines the final proponents, with manufacturing occurring during spring and summer. Flu vaccines are available for administration to the general population in September.

Influenza viruses are prone to change genetically, causing mutated strains that may lessen vaccine effectiveness; however, those who get yearly influenza vaccine have reduced risk of serious flu symptoms and complications, including death.

Flu Complications

Those who don’t to get flu protection via vaccine or nasal spray risk several complications should they get seasonal flu. Complications include:

  • sinus and ear infections
  • pneumonia
  • inflammation of the heart (myocarditis), brain (encephalitis) or muscle (myositis, rhabdomyolysis) tissues
  • and multi-organ failure (for example, respiratory and kidney failure.)

Flu virus infection of the respiratory tract can trigger an extreme inflammatory response in the body and can lead to sepsis, the body’s life-threatening response to infection.

Flu illness is more dangerous than the common cold for children. Each year, millions of children become sick with seasonal flu; thousands of children are hospitalized, and some children die from flu.

Children commonly need medical care because of flu, especially children younger than 5 years old.

Complications from flu among children in this age group include pneumonia; dehydration; worsening of long-term medical conditions like heart disease or asthma; brain dysfunction (encephalopathy); sinus issues and ear infections; and in rare instances, even death.

CDC estimates that since 2010, flu-related hospitalizations among children younger than 5 years old have ranged from 7,000 to 26,000 in the U.S. It’s noteworthy that among reported pediatric deaths, about 80% of those children weren’t fully vaccinated.

Populations diagnosed with certain chronic diseases have high risk of flu-related complications. Flu also can make chronic medical problems worse. For example, people with asthma may experience asthma attacks while they have flu, and people with chronic heart disease may experience worsening of this condition triggered by flu. Diabetes, chronic kidney disease, asthma, and chronic heart disease (even if well managed) are among the most common long-term medical conditions that place people at high risk of developing serious flu complications. It is particularly important that populations with these or other chronic medical conditions get a flu shot every year.

Getting flu can cause serious problems when you are pregnant. Even if you are generally healthy, changes in immune, heart, and lung functions during pregnancy make you more likely to get severely ill from flu. Pregnant women (and women up to 2 weeks postpartum) who get flu are at high risk of developing serious illness, including being hospitalized.

Flu complications can also severely affect adults aged 65 years and older. This population is at high risk of developing serious complications from flu, compared with young, healthy adults. This risk is due in part to changes in immune defenses with increasing age. While flu seasons vary in severity during most seasons, people 65 years and older bear the greatest burden of severe flu disease. In recent years, it’s estimated between 70% to 85% of seasonal flu-related deaths in the U.S. occur among people 65 years and older, and between approximately 50% to 70% of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations occurred among people in this age bracket.

Healthy Habits To Avoid Flu Infection

CDC recommends a “Take Three” approach to protecting yourself and your family members against flu infection:

  1. Take time to get a flu vaccine.
  2. Take everyday preventive actions that may slow the spread of germs that cause respiratory (nose, throat, and lungs) illnesses, like flu.
  3. If you do become sick with flu, take prescription antiviral drugs if your doctor prescribes them. Early treatment is especially important for the elderly, the very young, people with certain chronic health conditions, and pregnant women.

Additionally, there are several everyday preventative measures you and your family can take to guard against flu infection:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, throw it in the trash after using it and wash your hands.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, as that’s how flu germs spread.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs that can cause respiratory illnesses like flu.
  • For flu, CDC recommends that you (or your child) stay home for at least 24 hours after the fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. The fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.

Your Capital Women’s Care team is here should you have any questions or concerns about seasonal flu protection and how to implement it within your personal health plan or any woman’s health issue. Our goal is to help you achieve and enjoy optimal health and long, quality life through our comprehensive and professional expertise, from individualized health plans and preventative services through all stages of women’s health, including diagnoses, treatments and follow-up care.

Sources:

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/08/04/897696326/2020-flu-...
https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/prevention.html
https://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/imm...
https://www.cdc.gov/flu/highrisk/children.htm
https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/chronic...
https://www.cdc.gov/flu/highrisk/index.htm
https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/vaccinations.htm
https://www.cdc.gov/flu/season/index.html
https://www.cdc.gov/flu/highrisk/pregnant.htm
https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/actions-prevent-flu.htm

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