Flu season is around the corner. And even though it gets a lot of attention
every year, there is still quite a bit people don't know about influenza.
Linda Van Etta, MD, an infectious disease physician with
St. Luke's Infectious Disease Associates, shares information you may not know.
Influenza is respiratory
When it comes to symptoms, people are confused about what symptoms are
associated with influenza. "People will say someone in the family
has flu because they have diarrhea, nausea and vomiting," says Dr.
Van Etta. These symptoms are not influenza, but viral gastroenteritis
and most likely are caused by the norovirus. The Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention (CDC) lists
flu symptoms as: fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or
body aches, headaches and fatigue. "Influenza is a severe infection
of the upper respiratory tract," she says. "If you have true
influenza, it is memorable and you don't want it to happen to you."
Flu travels quickly around the world
The most severe flu season was in 1918. It
killed between 30 million and 50 million people worldwide, including an estimated 675,000 Americans, and the virus took six months
to travel around the world. In 2009 the flu pandemic spread across the
world in six weeks. "We say infections are only an airplane ride
away," says Dr. Van Etta. When flu presents as a pandemic, the following
year it becomes the seasonal flu. "We don't know how many years
an influenza strain will circulate," she says, so it's good to
be vaccinated and protected.
Influenza is caused by two virus strains
two kinds of flu virus: influenza A and influenza B. Influenza A is what causes pandemics. Flu
strains come in different combinations and follow a worldwide naming convention
from the World Health Organization that distinguishes two different proteins
on the virus: hemagglutinin and neuraminidase. That's why you hear
terms such as H1N1, which was the name for the 2009 virus.
The new vaccines
"Current vaccines are trivalent, meaning they protect against two
A strains and one B strain," says Dr. Van Etta. "We now have
a new quadrivalent vaccine this year that protects against two A strains
and two B strains." There is also a nasal spray that is most effective
in children and young adults, and a high-dose vaccine that is very effective
for people age 65 and older. "We recommend that everyone over the
age of six months get vaccinated," she says. For people with extreme
needle phobia, there is a new
intradermal vaccine with a needle that is 90% smaller than a regular vaccine needle, and it
goes into the skin rather than the muscle. St. Luke's has all of the
vaccines available to patients this year. Talk to your St. Luke's
doctor about the vaccine that is most appropriate for you and your family members.
2012 was a bad flu year
Most people don't realize that last year's flu was very bad. "Here
at St. Luke's, we had more people hospitalized for influenza last
year than we did during the pandemic of 2009," says Dr. Van Etta.
With the nasal spray, smaller needles and new quadrivalent vaccines, people
have many options to protect themselves and stay one step ahead of this
year's influenza virus.