FAIRMONT – Each year, the influenza virus adapts and changes, which means more people could become susceptible to the bug.
In turn, the flu vaccine changes each year in order to combat the sickness and prevent the virus from infecting those who receive it.
“The viruses are constantly changing,” said Sandra Hassenpflug, director of nursing at the Marion County Health Department. “The Center of Disease Control and Prevention monitors what viruses are circulating for that season and they make the vaccine accordingly.”
According to Hassenpflug, the Health Department will be distributing flu vaccines in its offices until the spring. However, it’s the latter part of the year that the virus seems to begin circulating. The CDC recommends getting vaccinated before the end of October.
Kathryn Moffett, pediatric infectious disease specialist for WVU Medicine, said some areas have already reported a spread of influenza to the CDC.
“They show four areas have reported local flu activity,” Moffett said. “Kentucky, Alabama, Louisiana and Nevada, and everywhere else says sporadic or no flu activity. I’m not surprised there are some places that have seen some but it’s still early.”
Hassenpflug said the spread of the virus in the cold months could be because the germs can live longer in the cold, and people tend to stay indoors more as the temperatures drop.
“Flu season is typically fall to early spring,” Hassenpflug said. “The winter months, obviously we’re inside, you’re in contact with one another, so that increases our chances of spreading viruses, infections, bacteria, things like that to each other.
“Also the droplets that we cough, we sneeze, we release, they kind of stay out in the atmosphere a little bit longer because of the cold weather.”
When one gets the flu vaccine, however, the injection works to recognize the virus in the body and fight against it to prevent a person from suffering the heavy symptoms.
“The flu shot, it actually provides you with protection against the viruses circulating,” Hassenpflug said. “Even if you get the flu shot, you could end up with a milder case, so even if you get the flu, it is still helping you.”
Moffett explained how the vaccine takes root in the body, and that there are no direct negative affects from getting a flu vaccine each year.
“Generally, these contain four strains of influenza – it’s a killed vaccine so you cannot get the flu from the flu shot,” she said. “It stimulates your immunity so that when you encounter one or more of those specific strands of flu, you have antibodies in your system that say ‘Aha, I’ve had that, I’m not going to get sick,’ and it stops you from getting sick.”
Moffett said last year’s flu season was abnormally long, with cases continually reported until around May of this year. She also said that many cases can lead to death, so getting the vaccine is important to cut down on influenza, in general, this season.
“Last year was actually a heavy flu year and there were two peaks; a peak in the winter, and a second wave circulated and peaked late, like March, April, May,” Moffett said. “In 2018-2019, there were over 80,000 deaths due to influenza, while most years have 30,000 to 40,000 deaths. So last year was a particularly high year.”
Hassenpflug suggests seeking treatment for influenza once an individual experiences multiple symptoms.
“If you have the flu, your symptoms could be fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue and some people have vomiting and diarrhea,” Hassenpflug said.
While the vaccine is recommended for basically anyone over the age of two, Hassenpflug said there are a few exceptions to the rule that doctors will likely point out to those affected.
“You don’t want to be younger than 6 months, you don’t want to be pregnant,” Hassenpflug said. “You don’t want to have had an allergic reaction to a previous influenza vaccine, if you are 2 through 17 years of age and receiving aspirin-contained products, have a weakened immune system, if you have a history of wheezing in the past 12 months; these are some counter-indications to getting that blood vaccine.”
Hassenpflug said once infected, it’s best for the patient to limit contact with others to prevent it from spreading.
“It’s best to stay home for 24 hours after your fever breaks,” Hassenpflug said. “That’s the key when you are sick; stay home, take care of yourself, stay hydrated and don’t spread it, and good hand washing obviously.”