What You Need to Know to Stay Healthy


the flu

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Every year, particularly during the winter months, millions of Americans are infected with the flu. Flu causes symptoms such as fever, cough, body aches and fatigue, and in some cases can lead to serious complications and even death.

Arnold Monto, a professor of epidemiology and global health at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, studied the spread of the influenza virus and the efficacy of vaccines and antivirals for more than five decades.

Her research group is one of six teams across the country that partner with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to monitor the effectiveness of the flu vaccine and help inform which strains are included in the vaccine each year.

Q: In addition to getting the flu shot, what else can people do to protect themselves and their families this flu season?

Amount: After getting the flu shot, washing your hands often is one of the best things you can do to avoid the flu. It is also helpful to avoid touching the eyes, nose and mouth.

When possible, avoid contact with people who have the flu or any type of respiratory infection. If you get the flu, help protect others: Stay home away from work, school, or other activities to prevent the spread of the virus.

Keeping healthy habits, such as getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet and drinking plenty of water, can also help you stay healthy this flu season.

Q: If you catch the flu this season, is there anything you can do to help reduce the symptoms?

Amount: Antiviral medications are usually underused, but are very effective in treating the symptoms of influenza. Tamiflu, or oseltamivir, which is available with a prescription and is taken daily for five days, can shorten the duration of your illness and prevent complications. However, antivirals work best if you take them when you begin to see the symptoms. You should not wait until you are very sick with the flu.

There is also a new antiviral on the market called baloxavir, which you only need to take once. It has about the same level of effectiveness as Tamiflu, but it also seems to reduce the shedding of the virus, or the amount of virus you can infect other people. We still need to do more research to determine if it is really helping to prevent the transmission of the flu from one person to another.

It is also important to remember that the flu vaccine generally helps to shorten the duration and reduce the severity of the symptoms even if you get the flu – which is another great reason to have a flu shot each year.

Credit: University of Michigan

P: Last year's flu vaccine was about 40 percent effective, according to the CDC. Do you know how effective the flu vaccine will be this year?

Amount: To understand the effectiveness of the vaccine, it is helpful to understand the influenza virus. There are two different types of circulating flu – type A and type B – and within each type there are some different variants. Currently, we have four strains represented in our influenza vaccine, two of type A and two of type B.

We know that one of the viruses type A, H3N2, causes the most serious symptoms of the flu. Unfortunately, the vaccine is less effective in preventing this strain. This is the strain that was circulating widely last year, when we had a very bad year for the flu.

It is impossible to predict, but we do not think that last year's flu season will repeat itself. This year, we think we'll see more of the kind of flu with which the vaccine works best. So we expect a better year than last year and another year in which the vaccine is 50% to 60% effective.

Q: If the flu vaccine is not 100% effective, should people still get it?

Amount: When deciding whether to get the flu vaccine, it is important to consider the possible consequences of contracting the flu. Although the flu sometimes only causes mild symptoms, it is very different from the common cold. The flu can make you sick and put you to bed for a few days, but it can also cause complications that lead to hospitalization and even death. Getting the flu also means you can pass it on to family, friends, and colleagues who may be at greater risk of complications.

The vaccine does not prevent 100% of flu cases but can significantly lower your chances of getting the flu – up to 30, 40, 50% or more.

It is also important to consider that the influenza vaccine has proven to be one of the safest vaccines available. Thus, the benefits of receiving the shot far outweigh the risk.

Q: How do you and your team measure how well the vaccine is protecting people from the flu in a given year?

Amount: We measured the effectiveness of the influenza vaccine by looking at three different populations in Southeast Michigan. First, we team up with local hospitals to find out how the vaccine is preventing hospitalization for people infected with the flu virus. We also work with outpatient departments within the Henry Ford and University of Michigan health systems to find out what the vaccine does to stop people from seeing their flu symptoms. Finally, we do a home study that allows us to examine milder cases of influenza as well. We stay in touch with people in these households all year round. When they get sick, we test them for the flu and find out if they have received a vaccine. This also gives us the opportunity to see how the flu spreads inside a home.

We report these findings back to CDC, and they use this information to help determine how to formulate future vaccines.

US Flu Activity Low Now, But On the Rise: CDC

Provided by
University of Michigan

Flu Season: What You Need to Know to Stay Healthy (2019, January 14)
recovered January 14, 2019
from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2019-01-flu-season-healthy.html

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