University Health Epidemiologist Answers Questions About Influenza and Flu Vaccine

University Health Epidemiologist Answers Questions About Influenza and Flu Vaccine

SAINT ANTONY – This year’s flu season started earlier than usual and tens of thousands of Texans have already gotten sick.

As cases continue to rise, Dr. Jason Bowling, Hospital Epidemiologist at University Health and Associate Professor at UT Health SA, answered some frequently asked questions about influenza and the flu vaccine.

Q: What is the difference between influenza A and influenza B?

Dr Bowling: There are some differences in molecular structure, but you can get very sick from either strain. The most important thing to recognize is that each flu season actually represents several different strains of influenza in circulation, which means that people can be infected with different strains. It also highlights why natural immunity is not enough to protect against infection from a different strain.

Q: Is this year’s flu vaccine effective against the strains we’re looking at?

Dr Bowling: It’s still early in the season, but the CDC is sampling circulating isolates to see how close they are to matching the vaccine strains, and early results show that the influenza isolates selected for the vaccine appear to be a good match. coincidence. This can change even during the course of the flu season, but it’s a promising start.

Q: If you get the flu before you get the flu shot, do you still need to get the flu shot? How long should you wait?

Dr Bowling: You should still get a flu shot even if you’ve had the flu because there are several strains circulating. That’s why there are four different strains in this year’s quadrivalent flu vaccine. Natural immunity does not provide enough protection to prevent you from getting sick with a different strain in the same flu season. Timing can vary by individual, but it is generally recommended that you wait until you have fully recovered from acute influenza infection and your immune system is close to baseline to get a sufficient immune response to infection. vaccine. . For most people, it’s at least two weeks, but it may be better to wait four weeks or so.

Q: If you’ve been exposed to the flu and haven’t been vaccinated, should you get vaccinated right away or wait?

Dr Bowling: Exposure is not a good reason to wait. A flu shot will not prevent you from getting sick if you were really exposed, but many people are being exposed right now without knowing it. There are a lot of flu viruses circulating, so if you’re not seriously ill yet, you better get a flu shot right now, even if you’ve been exposed, because you’re likely to be exposed again soon.

Q: Do you recommend that children take Tamiflu?

Dr Bowling: The greatest benefit is for children with severe illness. If children are admitted to the hospital for influenza, they should definitely get Tamiflu, and I would consider it for children who are at high risk of progressing to severe illness, such as a child who has an underlying medical condition. If oseltamivir (Tamiflu) is started within 48 hours of symptom onset, it can reduce the duration of symptoms by about 24 hours (1 day). If it’s a healthy child, Tamiflu probably won’t make much of a difference.

Q: If I have flu A, could I get flu B at the same time or one right after the other?

Dr Bowling: It is possible to get viral co-infections with two strains of the flu, but we usually see people infected with the flu and a non-flu virus at the same time. And you might as well get one right after the other.

Q: How long after showing symptoms is it contagious?

Dr Bowling: How long you are contagious after first showing symptoms can vary: children and immunocompromised people will shed the virus longer, but most people are considered contagious to others for about 5-7 days after infection. onset of symptoms with influenza.

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