Friday, February 22, 2008
The flu and the flu shot
By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
Chief Medical Correspondent

Everywhere I go, people tell me "Hey Doc, I got the flu shot and I still got sick!" And, given that I do recommend the flu shot as a physician, they seem to hold me somewhat responsible. Even though I have nothing to do with actually designing the flu vaccine, I get it. And, I do feel bad. I hate seeing people sick. Truth is, this year I may get more of those comments than in years past. The flu season is getting pretty bad with 49 states now reporting widespread flu activity. No surprise given that this year's vaccine is only 40 percent effective. Let me explain.

What you may not know is that developing a flu vaccine is largely guesswork. That's right; it is more speculation than science. Last year sometime, scientists were asked to predict what strains of the flu would be most problematic this year. It's kind of like hitting a moving target, as the virus strains change constantly. The scientists typically choose three strains, two from the type A family and one from the Type B family. The flu shot you get is designed to protect you against those three strains.

For frame of reference, 16 of the last 19 years, the scientists' predictions were good ones. While those vaccines in years past were not perfect, they were between 70 percent and 90 percent effective. This year, though, they missed the mark, most specifically with that B strain, and people are getting sick.

I know it sounds crazy, but there is method behind the madness. The way vaccine production works, it takes about six months to make enough for everyone who needs the shot. If scientists and vaccine-makers waited to learn exactly which strain of virus is circulating, there wouldn't be enough time to produce the vaccine. They're working on better, faster methods, but none are ready to implement.

Plans for next year's flu vaccine have already begun, and the World Health Organization is recommending some big changes. Of course, this is of no comfort to people who are suffering right now.

So, do you have any ideas on how to better protect ourselves against the flu? Given the background on the flu vaccine, are you more or less likely to get the shot?

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There are things to use that stop and /or help the flu or cold. One that I use from a herbalist is to put up to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne in grape juice. You can start with a pinch and work your way up to full dose. Take it 2 to 3 times a day. If you take it before it gets bad like when you start to feel a tickle in the throat or a feeling of uneasiness that you are starting to get sick and it will not happen. Once you are sick don't worry start taking it and you will find you get better faster and most symptoms stop right away.

Try it yourself and you will be surprised. Everyone who tries this is totally surprised. I go years of not getting sick at all because of it. I was sick this year for the first time in 5 years. But I was over it within a day because I did not have grape juice on hand and it became full blown by the time I got it. Everyone else stayed sick for at least a week who did not take it.
I agree with the title, What is in the flu shot? Your article never does mention whats actually in it though. .. interesting..
I got the flu shot for the first time this year. I had all the kids get the inhaled version and my husband got the shot too. With three kids in school and my husband a teacher, we have ALWAYS gotten the flu. This year we didn't. Not a bit. I will get it again.
Every year our office advises patients to reschedule if they have a fever. We encourage staff to get the flu shot and put up hand washing stations. We still get hit by the flu. Obviously the flu-shot is not enough and is not likely to be enough. In Ontario we had SARS to open our eyes. Hopefully, it won't take a full-on pandemic for people to take more basic precautions. Wait Times Blog
Three years ago after a heart attack (and thank you Dr. Gupta, I saw and article you did on CNN about taking aspirin which my cardiologist said saved my life) I got a flu shot which my cardiologist recommend. Immediately after the shot was the only time I have had the flu.
I am a firm believer in peppers especially hot peppers. I learned about peppers while on a project in China. I heard Senator Clinton mention the same thing. Oh, I have not had the flu since.
Dennis L.
I got the flu shot this year for the first time ever and got BRONCHITIS! I am usually very healthy. Although the flu is probably not was responsible I probably won't get the shot again because for me it seemed like a waste of money to get a shot that is only 40% effective.
I have no technical knowledge about how to create the vaccine to ward off flu, but may I suggest the following to limit it's impact.

I understand that the impact of flu to children, seniors and chronically ill people is serious if not deadly.

Therefore, by ascertaining who these people are and provide them with a more advanced formula, based on what strains really appear. By distributing to this class of people later in the cycle, there may be enough time to not only greatly improve the formula, but save the more serious impact of the flu.

Those that are in good health, seems from what I understand, to have minimal complications if they get the flu, which did not cover all the strains.

Doctors could provide the number of patience to flu distributors of how many people fall in the later need classification of improved formula for the flu.

This is a small attempt to evert flue impact, by scheduling formula distribution. I apologize if this simple shifting of distribution has already been identified and rejected.
I get it every year no matter what. I never expect it to cover me 100%.

Can the vaccine provide protection even if the vaccine is not a “good” match?

Yes, antibodies created through vaccination with one strain of influenza viruses will often offer protection against different, but related strains of influenza viruses. So even though circulating influenza viruses may “drift” or change from the time the vaccine composition is recommended, the vaccine can cross-protect against circulating viruses. The mismatch may result in reduced effectiveness against the variant viruses, but it still can provide enough protection to lessen illness severity. In addition, it’s important to remember that the influenza vaccine contains three virus strains so the vaccine would still protect against the other two viruses. For these reasons, even during season’s when there is a mismatch, CDC continues to recommend influenza vaccination. This is particularly important in people at high risk for serious flu-related complications and for close contacts of high risk people.

Besides vaccination, what can I do to protect myself against influenza?

The single best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated each year, but antiviral medications are an important second line of defense that can be used in the prevention and treatment of flu. These medications must be prescribed by a doctor. Visit Antiviral Agents for Seasonal Influenza: Information for Health Professionals for more information about antiviral drugs. There also are certain “good health habits” that may help prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses like the flu: including covering your cough and washing your hands often. For more information about on this topic, visit Good Health Habits for Preventing Seasonal Flu.
It is the resistance of the host that determines whether one will come down with a cold/flu or not - this resistance is largely determined by diet and stress. Sugar is the number one food that lowers resistance - try cutting out all of the candy, cookies, cakes, pastries, ice cream, etc. and notice how you don't get sick as often.
I'm an internist in Atlanta, and I've seen an average of 4 cases of flu a day for over 2 months. I've asked each person if they've had this year's flu shot. With only one exception, every sick patient had NOT had a flu shot. The one exception had an abbreviated course with comparatively mild symptoms. Each case for which I have used a "rapid Influenza A&B" test indicated that it was Influenza (strain) A. I gave myself a flu shot and have not been sick. I'm not sure how the information was determined about this year's vaccine only being 40% effective. I suspect it was derived from nasal swabs sent to the CDC, and wonder if these samples were sent for assistance with diagnosis, primarily in cases that were particularly "nasty." If so, this sampling is obviously not representative of the general public. Regardless, I strongly encourage almost everyone to have a flu shot. My population of patients is very diverse and, at least in this geographic area, their experiences support being vaccinated.
My son is 5 yrs old and in Pre-K. He is just beginning to learn his A,B,C's and 1, 2, 3's. However, put any reading material infront of him and he reads it. Right now, I would say his reading level is that of a 3rd grader or higher.

What's the explanation for this?
This has been such a weird season for almost everybody. My husband and I hardly ever get sick. Right before Christmas we were both the sickest we have EVER been in our lives. It was awful. From now on we will always get a flu shot, which we didn't this year. I never want to go through that again....EVER.

April in Michigan
My comment is an a different article: "Preeclampsia". I had this with both pregnancies. My doctor simply administered a progesterone injection after testing my blood levels, which indicated that I was out of balance with progesterone. The preeclampsia was eliminated after only a single shot. My blood pressure returned to normal for the remainder of the pregnancies. I delivered both babies on my due date - not a day earlier. Contrary to the article - there is a simple cure for Preeclampsia.
Since my parents started to get the flu shot, they have been much healthier. If they do get flu, it is usually not so severe. We also started to arrange for the team at our business to get it. At first they protested, but once they experienced the benefits, they began to ask for it! So, we are very pro flu shots.

I have never got a flu shot and this season I didnt really get sick. I got very close but I was able to avoid it. I eat right, exercise and take the best vitamins I can get. That does the trick for me.

Nuwan from Houston
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