Vaccine guards against seasonal H1N1 virus

By J_Howard

November means the beginning of many things: holiday shopping, cold weather and influenza season. This year, the flu vaccine is recommended for everyone 6 months old and up and will protect against three strains of the flu, including the H1N1 virus.

In previous years, the flu shot has been distributed on a priority basis to pregnant women, those with weakened immune systems and people aged 65 and older. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommend that those 6 months of age or older get vaccinated because of the protection it provides against H1N1.

“In the past, 90 percent of fatalities occurred in a population of 65 and older,” said Jeff Dimond, CDC spokesman. “The H1N1 virus pandemic last year changed that, and 90 percent of fatalities were under the age of 65. Now we want to get everybody vaccinated.”

Another new development is the Fluzone High-Dose, approved by the FDA in late December 2009. This vaccine is four times stronger than the regular flu shot and is recommended for those who are 65 and older.

More than 115 million doses of the flu shot are available this year, making it another reason children and adults will have access to the vaccine, according

to Dimond.

College students’ lifestyles make them more susceptible to getting sick, according to Elizabeth Gozdziak, a pharmacist in Elmhurst, Ill.

“If [students] live in a dormitory, they are all really close together so they are all coughing, and coughing on each other,” Gozdziak said. “They are likely to get sick because of the close quarters.”

Robert Lamb, professor of molecular and cellular biology at Northwestern University, stresses influenza is a serious infectious disease and should not be taken lightly.

“Very often people talk about having the flu over the weekend or the stomach flu.” Lamb said. “This is an imprecise term. I’m sure they were sick, but they did not have the influenza virus. It is a much more serious and nasty disease.”

Influenza is a respiratory virus with symptoms of high fever, coughing, chills, body aches and runny or stuffy nose. Lamb said those infected with influenza will not want to get out of bed and will feel weak for a few days. Dimond said the virus can remain contagious for 24 hours after symptoms pass. Rest is key when fighting the flu. This is not only for the person infected but for those around the person as well.

“Don’t show how tough you are by getting out of bed and spreading the flu virus everywhere else,” Dimond said.

Strains of the virus can be different every year. This year’s flu shot protects against predicted seasonal flu viruses, according to Lamb.

“We know the flu is extremely unpredictable,” Diamond said. “That is one of the defining characteristics of the virus, but we know [influenza] is vaccine preventable.”

For those looking for a needle injection alternative, the vaccine comes in a nasal form. Gozdziak said the nasal spray is a weakened form of the virus and could result in a sore throat or a runny nose.

This year’s vaccine became available during late August and will continue throughout flu season, according to the CDC.

“Let’s say by February you still have not caught the flu from anyone and you still have not had the vaccine, it is still not too late to get it,” Gozdziak said.

Other forms of prevention against the virus are sneezing or coughing into a tissue and staying away from those who are sick because the virus is airborne. Lamb stands by the vaccine as the best form of prevention.

“Apart from the silly [remedies], which is to stop breathing, it is really pretty difficult [to prevent],” Lamb said. “The vaccine will give you good protection against

getting sick.”