The centers for disease control and prevention has warned that the current pandemic of the virus – influenza a, H3N2 – often leads to more serious diseases, hospitalization and death. In addition, this year’s vaccine may not be as effective as usual. What is a girl?
We asked Natasha Withers, a member of the FITNESS advisory committee of One medical group in New York City, whether she should still be stabbed (yes!). What else can be done to keep the season healthy? Your question, answer.
So what is a vaccine mismatch?
Each year, clinical researchers draw influenza strains around the world and design vaccines to prevent the winter’s most likely invasion of your region’s strains. Since this year’s vaccine has been concocted, the major strains of influenza virus we have seen in North America have mutated.
There are two main types of influenza viruses: type A and type B. Influenza a usually causes more widespread and severe outbreaks than B, and so far this year. The current strain, A H3N2, is named after the main antigen (protein on the surface of the virus), and your body (with the help of A vaccine) neutralizes the virus.
However, these antigens mutated in a process known as antigenic drift, a rapid evolutionary form that means the current vaccine won’t be as effective as it usually is.
There is another way that influenza viruses can mutate, and a more dramatic change in H and N is called an antigenic shift. This process has made the virus so much that the new strain has been given a whole new name (for example, H1N1, or swine flu). When this happens, most people have no immunity to the new strain, and as in 2009, there could be a serious flu pandemic. Fortunately, there has been no antigenic change this year.
I haven’t got the flu shot yet. Should I bother?
The antigenic drift we see will not make the current vaccine useless. Access to the flu vaccine can still protect you from other strains of the influenza virus that are endemic this year, and for many people, it will still provide partial protection against the mutant H3N2 strain. So the CDC still recommends vaccination.
What if I feel I have a cold?
If you start to feel flu-like symptoms, stay at home and get enough rest and fluids. Acetaminophen (such as tylenol) and/or ibuprofen (such as Advil, Motrin) fever and physical pain.
And talk to your primary care provider. She might recommend a short-term antiviral drug (tamiflu or Relenza). These drugs are not miracle workers – at most, it can shorten the duration of the flu for about a day and may slightly reduce the risk of life-threatening complications. But even a small benefit may have a real impact on patients at risk, such as asthma, heart disease or diabetes.
What else can I do to protect myself from the flu?
1. The best way to protect yourself from the flu is to wash your hands frequently with soap and water, as long as you sing “happy birthday” twice – especially before eating or using the restroom. When warm water and soap are not available, use an alcohol sanitizer gel – just rub the hands together for about 20 seconds until the gel evaporates.
2. Sterilize the surfaces of homes and offices to prevent bacterial breeding. Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth unless you have a clean hand.
Try to stay at least six feet away from a sick person to avoid sharing food or drinks during an outbreak.
To keep your immune system healthy, sleep more than one night (eight hours is ideal), drink more water and eat more fruits and vegetables. Avoid alcohol, tobacco and other unhealthy vices.