The New Flu Shot for 2010

August 27, 2010 Dr Sadaty Bonita Springs Physician

After the mayhem caused last year by the emergence of H1N1, a.k.a “Swine Flu”, this year’s Flu season seems to be shaping up to be much more calm and far less unpredictable.  To begin with, H1N1 has clearly been on the wane and thus far, seems to be a relative non-factor in every day office medicine.  Of course, now that we have a better handle on H1N1, the vaccine for Swine Flu is now widely available without any need for restricting use for certain patients.  However, a major change this season is that the basic Flu Shot will contain both H1N1 and the garden variety seasonal Influenza vaccine, all in one injection.  So we basically got our act together just in time for H1N1 to be on the run.  Talk about too little too late.

In any event, the Flu shot that is available in the pharmacy or doctor’s office will cover it all – no need to ask for the regular influenza but not H1N1, or vice versa.  In addition, this season’s Flu Shot covers a third virus, or H3N2.  H3N2 is understood to be a variant of Influenza B, which is suspected to come our way this fall.  Unlike H1N1, H3N2 is believed to cause a potentially severe illness primarily in elderly patients.  How researchers arrived to this conclusion is not known to me, but given last year’s snail-like response to H1N1, I would imagine that the CDC does not want to be caught with its pants down yet again.

It also used to be the case that not all patients were advised to receive Flu Shots.  As early as last year, only adult patients over the age of 50 (or younger patients with specific medical problems) were offered Flu Shots.  This year, essentially all patients except those less than six months of age are advised to receive Flu shots.  The broader approach to include younger patients is based upon the idea that if you are young enough not be harmed by seasonal Flu, then you are also young enough to be at risk for fatal H1N1.  Similarly, if you are old enough not to have to worry about H1N1, then you are old enough to be at risk for medical complications of seasonal Influenza.  So the CDC simplified things by recommending the Flu shot to everyone.

Since there have only been about 400 fatalities worldwide this spring and summer from H1N1, why even bother with a vaccine that covers H1N1? Why not just get the vaccine for the basic seasonal influenza virus? The CDC answers that H1N1 could make a big come back this fall and therefore mass vaccination against it is necessary. Probably a more honest response would be that they have already made the vaccine as a combined H1N1/Influenza unit and there’s no turning back now. So we’re basically stuck getting vaccinated for both.

As with any Flu season, the take home point should be to try to get the shot early in the fall, to wash your hands often, and to steer clear of anyone who even mentions the word “flu”.

 

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