By now you’re probably aware that the 2017-2018 flu season is the worst we’ve had in nearly a decade. That is unless you’re working a locum tenens job in Hawaii., which is the only state in the country that hasn’t experienced significant flu activity. After starting slowly, the number of people hospitalized or dying from the flu rose rapidly in mid-January. Already, this season surpassed the 2014-2015 outbreak of the same H3N2 strain. Here we’ll provide some background on this year’s influenza and facts about the flu shot you can use to inform your patients and keep them up to date!
Although there are several strains of the flu, the current H3N2 strain is actually the most dangerous. First seen in Hong Kong in 1968, this strain killed an estimated 1 million people around the world that year. Now, 77 percent of all flu cases in January have been identified as H3N2. In mild flu seasons, the sickness kills an average of 12,000 Americans and up to 56,000 at very worst. Unfortunately, these deaths are usually among the elderly or very young children, however, this year has put an unusual amount of baby-boomers in the hospital for reasons still unknown.
With such high rates of the flu, many patients wonder whether facts about the flu shot are true. You’ll probably hear questions like, “how does it work and is it still worth getting?” Here’s a quick set of questions and answers to help you prepare for all of those inquisitive patient visits.
Patient Questions and Facts About the Flu Shot
How Do Flu Shots Work?
There are many misconceptions about what vaccines actually do, and the flu shot is no different.
Believe it or not, many people think that you can get the flu by receiving the vaccine. Obviously, this is false. Just tell patients that although some flu shots are made using flu viruses, these organisms are ‘inactive,’ and therefore unable to create symptoms. Still, the body responds to these viruses as if they were normal organisms and creates antibodies. This makes it much harder (though not impossible) for people to contract actual flu viruses.
Additionally, remind them that recombinant influenza vaccines don’t use viruses at all. Both have the potential to produce side effects such as soreness, redness, or swelling at the injection site. Low-grade fever, headaches, or muscles aches are also possible but much less common, so make this known to patients. These side-effects are likely the reason people believe flu shots actually give you the flu, although it’s not technically correct.
Can I Still Get a Flu Shot During Flu Season?
Even though the shot does not prevent someone from getting the flu, it still makes it much less likely to result in serious complications or death. The current vaccine provides an estimated 30 percent success rate, meaning the flu was avoided entirely by those individuals. Considering that flu seasons can last up until spring, remind patients that it is still worth getting a flu shot now if they haven’t already. Just make them aware that the vaccine takes about two weeks to build up the appropriate immune response.
Other types of flu vaccines?
The traditional flu vaccines (called “trivalent” vaccines) are designed to fend off three versions of the virus; the influenza A (H1N1) virus, influenza A (H3N2), and an influenza B virus. “Quadrivalent” vaccines also fend off the previously mentioned strains as well as an additional B virus. According to the CDC, injectable flu vaccines are recommended during the 2017-2018 flu season. They also advise against using the nasal spray versions of these vaccines. Helping patients figure out which vaccine is right for them is very important!
Who Should Get a Flu Shot?
It’s recommended that everyone six months of age and older should receive a flu shot every season. This is particularly important for people with a high risk of complications, such as infants or the elderly. Remind your healthy patients who may not be as affected by the flu need to consider flu shots for the sake of avoiding passing it on to more vulnerable people. Let them know that vaccines are found in many locations including doctor’s offices, clinics, health departments, pharmacies, college health centers, and even in some schools. They should be aware that getting the flu shot each year is important since the virus mutates and your body’s defenses weaken over time.
Hopefully, increased vaccinations can keep this flu season under control. Helping patients learn the facts about the flu shot is important to keep the public safe and healthy! Thoughts? Let us know in the comment section below!