Here is the second part of our series on flu season! We hope you took our advice from last week and got your flu shot! We’re going to get a bit more into the nitty-gritty about how the flu spreads and what makes the flu vaccine work. So hang on, we’re diving right in!
- The influenza virus is a respiratory virus, and it spreads primarily through contact with respiratory droplets. However, these droplets can spread through direct bodily contact or through contaminated surfaces. The flu virus can remain alive on solid surfaces for as long as eight hours, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To keep from getting sick, doctors recommend you avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth after touching surfaces or other people and that you wash your hands frequently.
- Herd immunity is part of what makes the flu vaccine so powerful. Herd immunity is what happens when enough members of the population have an immune response built up against the disease that it doesn’t gain a foothold and spread throughout the community. This phenomenon is especially important for people who are unable to get the flu vaccine because their immune systems are too weak or because they are too young or old.
- In order for the vaccine to be effective during flu season, you have to get the vaccine again every year. Studies have shown that immunity to the flu wears off over time after getting the flu vaccine. The annual flu vaccine also protects against different strains of the flu each year, based on CDC predictions of what will be the most prevalent strains.
- New strains of the flu evolve in two different ways. One is a slow, gradual change that makes the flu unrecognizable to your immune system, and this is called antigenic drift. This makes the flu vaccine important on a year-to-year basis. The second kind is called antigenic shift and is a more sudden kind of mutation that occurs when two different strains of the flu infect the same cell and combine their genetic material. This type of mutation can cause a very severe epidemic, because people have little or no immunity to the new strain.
- For many reasons, the flu vaccine might not be able to fully protect you. First, if you are exposed to the flu virus before you get the vaccine or in the two weeks after, you could be vulnerable to infection because your body has not built up adequate immunity to it. You could also end up being exposed to a strain of the virus that is not covered by the vaccine, which happens often because of how easily the virus mutates. Finally, you could lose immunity, which happens over time as the body’s immune response to the vaccine dies down. The immune response can wear off faster in older adults.
Now that you’ve read this series, you should be equipped with all the knowledge you need to make it through flu season unscathed. If you have any more questions about the flu and what risk it presents to your family, you can visit your local AFC without any appointment to talk with a doctor about what you can do to keep yourself and your family healthy.