Flu vaccine may not be good match for virus
FARGO - People shouldn't be deterred from getting a flu shot simply because the vaccine isn't a perfect match for one influenza strain that has emerged early in the season, public health officials said.
FARGO – People shouldn’t be deterred from getting a flu shot simply because the vaccine isn’t a perfect match for one influenza strain that has emerged early in the season, public health officials said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has notified health providers that a variant of the most common flu strain so far this year, type A, H3N2, isn’t fully protected by the vaccine.
“The flu vaccine will still provide a measure of protection,” even against an influenza strain that is an imperfect match, Dr. Clifford Mauriello, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Sanford Health, said Monday. “The message is, you should still get vaccinated.”
Each year, flu vaccine makers produce vaccines based on experts’ best prediction of the three or four virus strains most likely to emerge.
But flu viruses mutate quickly, a process called “drift,” leading to an imperfect match between the vaccine and the viruses circulating.
“It’s still the best preventative tool that we have,” said Desi Fleming, director of nursing at Fargo Cass Public Health.
Even if it is an imperfect match, the vaccine still might be able to protect against some of the worst effects of influenza, which can leave people bedridden for a few weeks and, in rare cases, cause death, she said.
Vaccines have an effectiveness range of 50 to 70 percent among adults when well-matched to viruses that are circulating, according to the CDC.
“It’s definitely not too late to get a flu shot,” Fleming said, noting that peak flu season usually arrives in January or February.
In Minnesota and North Dakota so far, reported flu cases are considered minimal by the CDC.
In North Dakota, as of last week 68 cases were reported, including 10 resulting in hospitalization. No flu deaths have been reported, according to state health officials.
In Minnesota, 18 hospitalizations and one pediatric flu death have been reported as of Nov. 29, the most recent figures available. No hospitalizations were reported in northwest Minnesota.
Influenza symptoms include high fever of 101 to 103 degrees or more combined with body ache, fatigue, respiratory symptoms, including cough, runny nose and sore throat and sometimes nausea.
Anyone with those symptoms should quickly seek medical attention, Mauriello said.
Anti-viral medications, especially if given within the first 24 to 48 hours, will make people feel better and shorten the duration of their symptoms, he said. They might also help prevent spread of the flu.
It’s important for everyone to get vaccinated against the flu, not only for their own well-being, but also to help prevent the spread to those who are susceptible, including infants, the very old, and those whose immune symptoms are suppressed, Mauriello and Fleming said.
Although a “core population” of people get vaccinated against the flu every year, some people wait to see if a severe strain surfaces, as happened five years ago with the outbreak of the deadly H1N1 flu virus, Fleming said.
Vaccination clinics for the flu usually start in late October or early November. More than 58,500 people have been vaccinated against the flu so far in Sanford’s Fargo region.
“The flu vaccine works best when we all get vaccinated,” Mauriello said.
Michelle Feist, an epidemiologist for the North Dakota Department of Health, agreed that everyone should get vaccinated to protect public health.
“It’s very important to have that herd immunity,” she said.