In 2017-2018, America had the worst flu season in decades. According to the CDC, over 700,000 Americans visited a hospital for flu-like symptoms. Even more shocking? Over 180 children died of flu complications. With a new flu season started, can a flu shot help? A vaccination years ago is ineffective. In fact, how long the vaccine lasts is surprising.
Understanding flu symptoms
The influenza virus or flu is a respiratory illness affecting millions yearly. Don’t confuse the flu with the common cold. Flu and the cold both bring runny noses, sneezes, and coughs. But the flu carries added complications. For example, fever, chills, fatigue, and weakness lasting for days. Flu viruses also lead to further complications like pneumonia.
Knowing the ABCs of viruses
With the flu comes three strains, A, B, and C. The A virus attacks through the air, touch, and even from animals. The lesser B and C strains transfer human to human. Well-known flu strains are bird flu (H5N1) and swine flu (H1N1). The strong H3N2, with similar symptoms to swine flu, was the main virus last season.
The main reason to update vaccines
Flu season starts around winter and heads into spring the following year. Vaccines typically last the current flu season. Why the short time-frame? Because flu viruses constantly mutate. So the effectiveness of vaccines varies yearly.
The shelf life of a flu shot
Scientists try to predict the flu virus to hit next season. Then, scientists create a quadrivalent vaccine. The quadrivalent contains two possible vaccines of the A and B strains expected. Even with the vaccine, strong viruses still infect millions. One study shows vaccines struggle against H3N2. So a vaccine safely lasts 1 year, or a bit longer dependent on next season. To be safe, get vaccinated yearly.
You’re not out of the cold yet
Flu shots do not guarantee protection. Yet, without the vaccine, the chances are much higher. A successful flu vaccine has a 40-60% prevention rate. With a flu shot comes additional benefits. A flu shot helps prevent the spread of the virus to people without vaccination. The more people with vaccines, the less ground the virus covers. Doctors recommend a vaccine yearly, two weeks before flu season starts in October.