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Published on February 02, 2015

It’s Flu Season. Here’s How To Protect Yourself.

The flu season is in full swing and has reached an epidemic level. That means, according to the latest flu data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there is a higher than usual number of cases this year.

That’s partly due to the fact that this year’s flu vaccine is not working as well as it usually does.

“Most of the strains of the flu we have been seeing in patients this year are not the ones that were anticipated, so [the vaccine] has not been as effective as it has been in years past,” said Dr. Christopher Notte, Abington Health’s medical director of ambulatory markets.

This year, the most common strain of influenza circulating in the U.S. is called H3N2, which in past years has had the tendency to send more people to the hospital than other stains. On top of that, more than half of the H3N2 viruses have, according to the CDC, “drifted,” which means they have slightly mutated from the strain used to make this year’s flu vaccine.

“We are never sure which strains of the flu will be present until flu season starts. So a team of physicians and scientists have to make a ‘best guess’ a year prior so that the vaccine can be produced in time,” explained Dr. Notte who provides care at Abington Health’s Urgent Care Centers in Flourtown and Feasterville.

Although the flu shot isn’t as effective as planned, that doesn’t mean that if you got one that you’re unprotected from the virus.

According to Dr. Notte, there are still a significant number of people who will be protected from the flu from the vaccine they received because it contained other strains of the flu that are circulating.

“Additionally, even for those strains that are not present in the vaccine, there is still a crossover effect. In other words, the flu shot can ‘jump start’ the immune process prior to an infection, therefore significantly reducing the duration of an illness,” he said. Essentially, this year’s flu vaccine is providing a warning to your body to get prepared for battle.

“We have seen that those with the flu who have received the flu shot get better much more quickly than those who have not,” Dr. Notte stated.

Regardless of whether you received the flu shot, there are some things you can do to protect yourself from getting sick this season.

The best way to avoid catching the flu is by simply avoiding those who have it.

“The flu is believed to be spread by droplets created when infected individuals cough or sneeze. Most commonly, people catch the flu because they are within six feet or so of an infected person and these droplets come in contact with their respiratory tract,” he said.

The next best way to protect yourself from the flu is washing your hands with soap and water or, if that isn’t available, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

“It is also possible, though less common, to get the flu by touching a surface that may have had those droplets on them. This is why good hand washing is key,” Dr. Notte advised.  Washing or disinfecting objects or surfaces that may have come in contact with people infected with the flu is another precaution to stop or slow the spread of the virus.

And when it comes to the flu shot, Dr. Notte stresses that though it’s not as effective this year, that’s not typical.

“It is simply the best way to protect individuals, as well as the population, from influenza infection and its related complications, which can include pneumonia, hospitalization and even death,” he said.


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