Tag: flu

Who Dies from the Flu?

While some folks still believe that the flu is a mild infection, most people understand that the flu is a very dangerous disease.

A dangerous disease that kills hundreds of children and tens of thousands of adults each year in the United States.

Who Dies from the Flu?

In addition to thinking that the flu isn’t dangerous, some folks misunderstand just who is at risk for dying from the flu.

While it is certainly true that some people at higher risk than others, including those who are very young, very old, and those with chronic medical problems, it is very important to understand that just about anyone can die when they get the flu.

Just consider the 2017-18 flu season, in which 181 children died.

As in most years, half of the kids who died of flu during the 2017-18 flu season had no underlying medical condition. Of those who did, the most common were neurologic and pulmonary conditions.
As in most years, half of the kids who died of flu during the 2017-18 flu season had no underlying medical condition. Of those who did, the most common were neurologic and pulmonary conditions.

In addition to the fact that half of the kids who died were otherwise healthy, without an underlying high risk medical condition, it is important to realize that up to 80% were unvaccinated.

That’s a good clue that flu vaccines work and that everyone should get vaccinated and protected each year.

“Influenza vaccination during the 2015-2016 influenza season prevented an estimated 5.1 million illnesses, 2.5 million medical visits, 71,000 hospitalizations, and 3,000 P&I deaths.”

Estimated Influenza Illnesses, Medical Visits, Hospitalizations, and Deaths Averted by Vaccination in the United States

Flu vaccines aren’t perfect, but even when they are less effective than we would like, they have many benefits, including reducing your risk of dying from the flu.

Who dies from the flu?

Consider that one of the first flu deaths of the season was a 29-year-old Raleigh lawyer.

And the first pediatric flu death was an unvaccinated child in Florida without any underlying medical conditions.

Anyone can die from the flu.

Get your flu vaccine now.

More on Flu Deaths

How Long Does It Take for the Flu Vaccine to Start Working?

Flu shots work.

They aren’t perfect, but they can help prevent you from getting sick with the flu and have other benefits.

How Long Does It Take for the Flu Vaccine to Start Working?

They don’t work immediately though.

“It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against influenza virus infection.”

Key Facts About Seasonal Flu Vaccine

That’s why you don’t want to wait until the last minute to get your flu vaccine.

I made sure to get my flu shot well before the start of flu season.
I made sure to get my flu shot well before the start of flu season.

You want some time for it to start working, so that you can be sure that you are protected.

So while some folks talk about getting a flu vaccine too early, you do want to make sure that you get it in time to get protection before flu is active in your area. Still, it is never too late to get a flu vaccine. It is better to get a flu vaccine late in the flu season than to skip it all together.

What about younger kids getting their flu vaccine for the first time and who need 2 doses? When do they start getting protection?

“The first dose “primes” the immune system; the second dose provides immune protection.”

Study Looks at Flu Vaccine Dosing in Children

Although they likely have some protection after that first dose, the best protection will begin 10 to 14 days after their second dose.

More on Flu Vaccine Protection

How Does a Mother’s Flu Shot Protect a Newborn Baby?

We know that pregnant women are supposed to get a flu vaccine.

Although recommendations on exactly when to get it have changed over the years, it has been a universal recommendation since at least the 1994-95 flu season.

But why?

How Does a Mother’s Flu Shot Protect a Newborn Baby?

One obvious way that a flu shot provides protection during pregnancy is that it reduces your risk of getting the flu while you are pregnant.

A flu shot during your pregnancy protects both you and your baby.
A flu shot during your pregnancy protects both you and your baby.

That’s good, as having the flu while you are pregnant can lead to preterm labor, a premature birth, birth defects, or a miscarriage. And of course, the flu can be life-threatening for pregnant women.

Getting a flu shot while you are pregnant can also help to make sure that you don’t get the flu after your baby is born, which not only keeps you healthy, but decreases the chance that your baby will be exposed to the flu. After all, if you get the flu, no matter how much you try to cover your cough and wash your hands, there is a good chance that you will give it to your baby.

And since babies can’t get flu shots of their own until they are at least six months old, a flu shot during pregnancy helps to make sure that your baby gets some of antibodies to protect them from the flu.

“When you get a flu shot, your body makes antibodies that also pass to your fetus. This means your baby has protection against the flu after birth. This is important because infants less than 6 months of age are too young to get the flu shot.”

Frequently Asked Questions for Patients Concerning Influenza (Flu) Vaccination During Pregnancy

Do you have to wait until late in your pregnancy to make sure that the most antibodies get passed to your baby?

While that might seem like a good idea, especially since that’s what we do for the Tdap vaccine and protection against pertussis, there are several reasons that we don’t do that with the flu vaccine, including that:

  1. pregnant mothers need the protection before flu season hits, so waiting would not be safe and could mean that you get sick with the flu before getting your shot
  2. protection from the flu vaccine shouldn’t wane or wear off so quickly that you need to get it later, after all, the earliest that you can get vaccinated is when flu vaccines first become available in August or September and that should provide good protection past the peak of flu season

When you get your flu shot while pregnant is going to have more to do with when you got pregnant in relation to the start of flu season more than anything else.

“The flu shot can be safely given during any trimester. Pregnant women can get the flu shot at any point during the flu season (typically October through May). Pregnant women should get the shot as soon as possible when it becomes available. If you are pregnant, talk with your obstetrician–gynecologist (ob-gyn) or other health care provider about getting the flu shot.”

Frequently Asked Questions for Patients Concerning Influenza (Flu) Vaccination During Pregnancy

Most importantly, remember that flu shots are considered an “essential component of prenatal care.”

While everyone should get a flu vaccine each year, since pregnant women are in a high risk group for flu complications, you should especially make sure that you get vaccinated and protected if you are pregnant. Everyone around you should get vaccinated too!

More on Flu Shot Protection During Pregnancy

Which Flu Vaccine Should You Get?

After decades with a single type of flu vaccine – the flu shot – there are now many different kinds of flu vaccines that many of us can choose from. And your choices are not just between the nasal spray flu vaccine vs a flu shot. There are also a lot of different kinds of flu shots available now.

Everyone needs a flu shot. When will you get yours?
Everyone needs a flu shot. When will you get yours? Photo by Gabriel Saldana (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Having choices is nice.

It would be also be nice to have a little more guidance on what to do with these choices.

Are any of the flu vaccines better than others?

Which Flu Vaccine Should You Get?

This year, we will have:

  • quadrivalent flu shots – Afluria, Fluarix, FluLaval, Fluzone, Fluzone Pediatric Dose
  • quadrivalent flu shots that are cell-culture based – Flucelvax
  • quadrivalent flu shots that can be given intradermally – Fluzone Intradermal
  • trivalent flu shots – Afluria
  • trivalent flu shots that are adjuvanted – Fluad
  • high dose trivalent flu shots – Fluzone High-Dose
  • quadrivalent flu shots that are made with recombinant technology – Flublok
  • nasal spray flu vaccine – Flumist

Which one should you get?

It is actually easy to start by asking which one you should get for your kids, as many of these flu vaccine options are only available for adults and seniors.

Flu Vaccine Options

Before you start thinking too long and hard about potential options, keep in mind that you might not have as many options as you think.

“Not all products are likely to be uniformly available in any practice setting or locality. Vaccination should not be delayed in order to obtain a specific product when an appropriate one is already available.”

Prevention and Control of Seasonal Influenza with Vaccines: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices—United States, 2018–19 Influenza Season

Doctors and clinics might not stock multiple brands or types of flu vaccines, so you might have to get whatever flu vaccine that they have available.

“Within these guidelines and approved indications, where more than one type of vaccine is appropriate and available, no preferential recommendation is made for use of any influenza vaccine product over another.”

Prevention and Control of Seasonal Influenza with Vaccines: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices—United States, 2018–19 Influenza Season

And that’s okay. In most cases, there haven’t been head to head studies showing that one flu vaccine is better than another.

Flu Vaccine Options for Kids

Still, since these options might be available to you, it is good to know about them.

This year, younger kids, between the ages of 6 months and 3 years, can either get:

  • FluLaval Quadrilvalent
  • Fluarix Quadrivalent
  • Fluzone Quadrivalent Pediatric

While you are unlikely to notice a difference, both FluLaval and Fluarix are given at a 0.5ml dose containing 15 µg of HA per vaccine virus, while Fluzone is given at a 0.25ml dose containing 7.5 µg of HA per vaccine virus. Why the difference? “Safety and reactogenicity were similar between the two vaccines,” even at the different doses.

Basically, these are just different brands of the same type of flu shot.

There are even more options as your kids get older though, including  Fluzone Quadrivalent (age three and above), Afluria Quadrivalent or Trivalent (age five and above), Flucelvax Quadrivalent (age four and above), FluLaval and Fluarix.

Of these, some folks wonder if Flucelvax, since it isn’t made in chicken eggs, might be more effective than the others. Remember, one of the things that are thought to make the flu vaccine less effective than most other vaccines is that they are made in eggs, leading to mutations. And there is actually some evidence that those flu vaccines that are not made in eggs might be more effective.

“And the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center is taking that a step further, saying it will only be buying the two egg-free vaccines on the market: Flucelvax and FluBlok. That’s because there is some evidence these two formulations may work better than the older vaccines grown in eggs, said Dr. Richard Zimmerman, who advises the UPMC Influenza Committee.”

Guidance on which flu vaccine to get: Shots for kids, maybe go egg-free

Again, remember that the CDC has made “no preferential recommendation” for one flu vaccine over another. Why not? We don’t have enough information to make that kind of recommendation.

Should parents only ask for Flucelvax? That would only work if they made enough doses for every kid to get vaccinated, which they didn’t. Should you hold out until you can find FluceIvax for your kids? No, since doing that might leave them unvaccinated once flu season hits.

What else should you know about your flu vaccine options? While over 80% of flu vaccines are now thimerosal free, most of these flu vaccines are still available in multi-dose vials with thimerosal.

Also thimerosal free, this year, Flumist is back as an option. It is available for healthy kids who are at least two years old. Although the AAP has issued a preference for flu shots this year, the ACIP says that kids can get either Flumist or a flu shot.

What about if your kids are allergic to eggs?

“Persons who report having had reactions to egg involving symptoms other than urticaria (hives), such as angioedema, respiratory distress, lightheadedness, or recurrent emesis; or who required epinephrine or another emergency medical intervention, may similarly receive any licensed, recommended, and age-appropriate influenza vaccine (i.e., any IIV, RIV4, or LAIV4) that is otherwise appropriate for their health status.”

Prevention and Control of Seasonal Influenza with Vaccines: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices—United States, 2018–19 Influenza Season

Unless they had a severe allergic reaction to a previous flu vaccine, they can get any available flu vaccine, especially if the previous reaction was only hives or they are able to eat eggs.

What if you want a flu vaccine without aluminum? Take your pick. While it would be safe it was, aluminum is not an ingredient in flu vaccines.

Flu Vaccine Options for Adults

In addition to all of the flu vaccines available for older kids, adults have a few more options:

  • Afluria Quadrivalent or Trivalent can be given by jet injector  to those between the ages of 18 and 64 years
  • Flublok Quadrivalent – a recombinant flu shot that can be given to those who are at least 18 years old
  • Fluzone High-Dose – a trivalent flu shot with a higher dose of flu virus antigens (4 times the amount of antigen as a regular flu shot) that is available for seniors who are at least 65 years old
  • Fluad – a trivalent flu shot with an adjuvant that is available for seniors who are at least 65 years old

Why get a flu vaccine with a jet injector instead of a standard needle? High-pressure jet injectors don’t use needles!

Like FluceIvax, Flublok is not made in chicken eggs. The recombinant hemagglutinin(HA) proteins are made in insect cell lines. Does Flublok work better than egg based flu vaccines? That’s the theory, but again, there is no preference for one of these vaccines over another.

Seniors have even more choices.

Should they get Fluzone High-Dose, Fluad, or one of the other flu vaccines? Both have been shown to be more effective than standard flu vaccines in seniors, but they have not been compared against each other.

“In a Canadian observational study of 282 people aged 65 years and older conducted during the 2011-12 season, Fluad was 63% more effective than regular-dose unadjuvanted flu shots.”

CDC on People 65 Years and Older & Influenza

But neither Fluzone High-Dose nor Fluad are quadrivalent, so only protect against three flu virus strains.

Is there a quadrivalent flu shot for older adults that might work better than standard flu shots?

Yes. FluceIvax and Flublok are non-egg based quadrivalent flu shots that might be more effective than standard flu vaccines.

So are you more confused now that you know you have so many options? Just remember that for most people, the mistake isn’t about choosing the right flu vaccine, it is about not getting vaccinated.

What to Know About Your Flu Vaccine Options

While it might seem like you have a lot more options in a flu vaccine this year and that some might be more effective than others, keep in mind that availability will likely greatly limit these “options.”

And the best flu vaccine is the one that you actually get, as it will be the one that reduces your risk of getting the flu. Missing your chance to get vaccinated and protected because you are waiting for a specific brand or type of flu vaccine isn’t going to help keep the flu away.

More on Your Flu Vaccine Options

Can Flu Shots Cause the Flu?

Most folks get a flu shot each year.

Most, but not all.

Some people still think that getting a flu shot will cause them to have the flu.
Some people still think that getting a flu shot will cause them to have the flu.

Why do some people skip it?

Can Flu Shots Cause the Flu?

Yes, some people think that getting a flu shot will actually cause them to get the flu.

It’s not hard to see why though.

The flu vaccine is not the most effective vaccine we have, so it is certainly possible that you can still get sick with the flu even though you have had your flu vaccine. Of course, that’s not a good reason to skip getting a flu vaccine, as they have lots of benefits.

Some other reasons you might still think that the flu vaccine can cause the flu include that:

  • side effects after a flu shot can include a soreness, low-grade fever, headache and muscle aches, which some people might confuse with a mild case of the flu
  • many other respiratory viruses can make you sick during cold and flu season, none of which the flu vaccine protects you against
  • since the flu vaccine takes about two weeks to work, if you got sick shortly after being vaccinated, you may have already been exposed and developed the flu before the vaccine became effective

But why can’t the flu shot cause the flu?

That’s easy.

It’s because the flu shot is an inactivated vaccine. The influenza virus is killed or inactivated, the viral particles are purified and split up, with only the HA and NA surface glycoproteins remaining. Those glycoproteins can not cause a natural flu infection.

What about Flumist, the nasal spray flu vaccine?

While Flumist is a live virus vaccine, it is made with attenuated or weakened strains of the flu that are cold-adapted, unable to replicate at the warmer temperatures that are found in the lungs and other areas of our bodies.

So Flumist doesn’t cause the flu either.

Hopefully this is one vaccine myth that folks will stop spreading. Remember, flu vaccines don’t cause you to get sick with the flu. Get vaccinated. Flu vaccines are your best protection against the flu.

What about those folks who say that they are going to skip the flu shot because they never get sick with the flu?

They are gambling.

It is estimated that about 5 to 20% of people get the flu each year. Unless you are rarely around other people during flu season, the chances are that you will eventually get the flu, especially if you are unvaccinated and unprotected.

More on the Myth that Flu Shots Cause the Flu

The Strategic Plan to Develop a Universal Influenza Vaccine

Even before you get to talk about problems with flu vaccine effectiveness,  it becomes clear that everyone wants a better flu vaccine.

One big problem with the current generation of flu vaccines?

You have to get them each and every year.

Developing a Better Flu Vaccine

So what would we all want in a new and better flu vaccine?

It would:

  • last longer, so you didn’t have to get a new vaccine every year
  • be more effective
  • cover more flu vaccine strains, so it wasn’t a “guess” about which flu strains to include in the flu vaccine each year and we didn’t have to worry about drifted flu vaccine strains or new and emerging strains for which there is no vaccine

A universal flu vaccine, which covers all possible flu strains, would be ideal.

So why haven’t we been working on developing a universal flu vaccine?

Well, we have.

It just isn’t that easy.

Many different research teams have been working on a universal flu vaccine for years and some have already had some success.

Does that mean we will see a universal flu vaccine soon?

Unfortunately, of the almost 40 organizations working on improved flu vaccines, including a universal flu vaccine, about 30 are still in preclinical or phase 1 trials. So the answer is no, we will not see a universal flu vaccine soon.

The Strategic Plan to Develop a Universal Influenza Vaccine

Maybe that will change now that more and more folks are pushing for a better flu vaccine and we see the effects of severe flu seasons without a good vaccine.

Of course, talk isn’t enough.

“A priority for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) is development of an influenza vaccine providing durable protection against multiple influenza strains, including those that may cause a pandemic, i.e., a universal influenza vaccine. To invigorate research efforts, NIAID developed a strategic plan focused on knowledge gaps in three major research areas, as well as additional resources required to ensure progress towards a universal influenza vaccine. NIAID will use this plan as a foundation for future investments in influenza research and will support and coordinate a consortium of multidisciplinary scientists focused on accelerating progress towards this goal.”

Erbelding et al on A Universal Influenza Vaccine: The Strategic Plan for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

That’s why it is also encouraging that we have seen the:

  • The Flu Vaccine Act would help fund a universal flu vaccine.the Pathway to a Universal Influenza Vaccine workshop convened by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in 2017
  • the Strategic Plan for Developing a Universal Influenza Vaccine by the NIAID that was announced in 2018
  • U.S. Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced the Flu Vaccine Act, which would invest $1 billion towards development of a universal flu vaccine

Knowing that developing a universal flu vaccine is a priority of the NIAID and that so many organizations are already working towards this goal is very reassuring.

Hopefully we are a lot closer than some folks thing.

Until then, a seasonal flu vaccine is the best way to avoid the flu and serious flu complications.

What to Know About Developing a Universal Influenza Vaccine

Developing a better flu vaccine, including a universal flu vaccine, is an even bigger priority with the announcement of the Strategic Plan for Developing a Universal Influenza Vaccine.

More on Developing a Universal Influenza Vaccine

What to Do If Your Child Is Exposed to the Flu

During a bad flu season, especially when effectiveness of the flu vaccine is less than ideal, parents want to know how to protect their kids from the flu.

Protecting Kids from the Flu

Cover your coughs and sneezes so you don't spread the flu virus to other people.
Covering your coughs and sneezes might help prevent the spread of the flu virus to other people.

Of course,  the best way to protect kids from the flu and serious complications of the flu is to get a flu vaccine each year.

Still, the flu vaccine isn’t perfect.

So, what else can you do?

Like other respiratory diseases that are mainly spread by coughing and sneezing, you can help reduce the risk that your kids will get sick by:

  • as much as possible and practical, keeping your kids away from other people, especially those who are obviously sick
  • encouraging your kids and others to properly cover their coughs and sneezes
  • teaching your kids to wash their hands properly
  • encouraging your kids to not touch their eyes, nose, or mouth, or to bite their nails or put things in their mouth, like their pencil or pen
  • cleaning and disinfecting surfaces that your child will likely touch
  • encouraging others to stay home from school or work when they have the flu until they are fever free for at least 24 hours, although they might be contagious for even longer

While these techniques might not work, they are certainly better than doing nothing and simply letting your kids catch the flu.

What to Do If Your Child Is Exposed to the Flu

If your kids do anything outside the home, even if they don’t go to daycare or school, there might come a time during a long flu season when they get exposed to someone with the flu.

What do you do?

“Prevention (prophylaxis) is a term used when someone who does not have flu symptoms is given Tamiflu to help stop them from getting the flu because they are exposed to or come into close contact with someone (for example live with or take care of someone) who has the flu.”

FDA on Tamiflu: Consumer Questions and Answers

In addition to watching for classic flu symptoms to develop over the next one to four days, if your child is unvaccinated or it is a year during which the flu vaccine is not very effective, if your child is in a high risk group for severe complications from the flu (under age two to five years or any age with chronic medical problems), then you might ask your pediatrician about:

  • a once a day dose of Tamiflu (Oseltamivir), which is recommended as a preventative in infants as young as three months old
  • a once a day dose of Relenza (Zanamivir), which is recommended as a preventative in children as young as five years old, unless they have respiratory problems, like asthma

But that doesn’t mean that everyone should take these flu medicines every time they are exposed to someone with the flu. If these medicines are overused, flu viruses will develop resistance and they won’t work, just like happened to some of the older anti-viral flu medicines, amantadine and rimantadine.

Still, if your child with diabetes, uncontrolled asthma, muscular dystrophy, or healthy four month old is closely exposed to someone with the flu, then taking Tamiflu to prevent a potentially severe case of the flu is likely a good idea.

What to Do If Your Child Gets the Flu

And if your child gets the flu?

Believe it or not, most healthy school age kids with the flu don’t need to be seen by their pediatrician.

“When treatment is started within two days of becoming sick with flu symptoms, antiviral drugs can lessen symptoms and shorten the time you are sick by about one day. They may reduce the risk of complications such as ear infections in children, and pneumonia and hospitalizations in adults. For people at high risk of serious flu complications, early treatment with an antiviral drug can mean the difference between having milder illness instead of more severe illness that might require a hospital stay.”

CDC on What You Should Know About Flu Antiviral Drugs

You should see your pediatrician or other health care provider at the first sign of flu symptoms if they are at high risk for serious complications of the flu and they might benefit from Tamiflu, which includes those under two to five years old and children with any chronic medical problems.

And of course, seek medical attention if your child with the flu is showing signs of a severe case of the flu, such as trouble breathing, dehydration, or being inconsolable, etc.

You should also seek medical attention if your child with the flu was getting better, but then starts to get worse again, with a return of fever, worsening cough, or severe headache, etc.

When in doubt, call your pediatrician!

What to Know About Protecting Kids from the Flu

In addition to avoiding people who are sick with the flu, see your pediatrician as soon as possible if your younger, high risk child is gets sick after being exposed to someone with the flu.

More on Protecting Kids from the Flu