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What's New with Flu 2015-16?

written by Pamela Prindle, R.N., BSN, CNOR
on Saturday, 21st November ,2015

What's New with Flu (2015-2016)

Once again it is time to have the discussion about the importance of the annual flu vaccine.  As we all know, influenza is a highly contagious viral illness which can land people in the hospital and kills many each year. Add to that, the failure of last year’s vaccine and that spells uncertainty for most of us when deciding to vaccinate for flu this year. Last year’s flu vaccine failure was a rare situation. Ninety percent of the time they have been accurate in predicting the flu strains that affect us each year. We are again hopeful that this year’s vaccine will do the job of protecting us. Influenza causes moderate to severe illness in all age groups around the world.   Common symptoms of the flu include fever, body aches, fatigue, cough, sore throat and congestion.  In recent years, averages of  20,000 preventable deaths and 200,000 hospitalizations annually have been associated with influenza.  Cardiopulmonary and chronic diseases can be exacerbated by influenza.  We can prevent this by taking an annual flu shot each year.  All major medical organizations, including the CDC (Center for Disease Control), the American College of Physicians and the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommend that all people over the age of 6 months get a yearly flu vaccine.

Each year we seem to be bombarded with news of new varieties of flu vaccines for specific groups. The 2015-2016 season is no exception. The quadrivalent (QIV) vaccine is the predominant vaccine used this year in all age groups because of its broader coverage. It consists of 4 strains of influenza - the 2 predominant type A strains that we see each year in the trivalent vaccine and 2 type B strains. The second strain of B is primarily a risk for children and young adults, but it can also be passed to older adults who may care for their young grandchildren, or to those in high risk groups.  Experts agree that the quadrivalent vaccine will significantly reduce influenza hospitalizations and deaths in this younger age group.  It is also recommended for all health care workers and international travelers who may need broader protection this season.  The QIV vaccine is readily available this year and there should be no shortages.

The flu mist, which is a nasal form of the flu vaccine (for those who are needle phobic) typically given to children 2 and over and adults up to age 49, is only available as a quadrivalent vaccine.  Therefore, if you are in the young adult/child age group, you may consider getting the quadrivalent flu mist, however, pregnant women, asthmatic patients and immunocompromised patients should not get the flu mist. 

The good news for those with severe allergies to egg products is that there is a non-egg formulation of flu vaccine called Flucelvax. It was released in 2014 and is available now in most flu clinic locations. The traditional trivalent influenza vaccine is available as well and continues to serve a purpose in the adult population. The flu vaccine is formulated as a intramuscular vaccine, intradermal vaccine or the mist.  The intradermal vaccine has a smaller needle and is injected superficially on the skin (0.1cc) and may cause less pain than the injection.  This is licensed for people 15-64.  Older adults (65+) will have a choice of the primary trivalent flu vaccine, quadrivalent flu vaccine, or the high-dose 65+ vaccine (Fluzone).  Fluzone High-Dose vaccine contains four times the amount of antigen contained in regular flu shots.  If you are over 65, do you need to go out of your way to get the high dose vaccine?  The clinical studies on the high dose vaccine show higher antibody responses in this age group, and we are hopeful that it will reduce the high incidence of flu in older adults. Most physicians and pharmacies do recommend the high dose flu vaccine for the 65+ groups, especially those with chronic debilitating  diseases. The CDC and ACIP (Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices) supports all influenza vaccinations without any preference of type.  Discuss with your doctor the best choice for you this year.

In summary, there are many options for effective prevention of influenza.  Unless there's a reason not to, most of us should be sure to get the flu vaccine this winter season. And there is never a time that is” too late” to get your flu vaccine but optimal time is our winter season in the US.  Since influenza can cause significant illness and even death, please make time to get the vaccine.  Pregnant women especially should get the injectable flu vaccine to prevent themselves and their unborn babies from severe illness.  For more information on the flu vaccine, check out the CDC website:  http://www.cdc.gov/FLU/about/qa/flushot.htm#high-risk.

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