“I have not been seeing a lot of cases just yet. Everybody will start getting together around Thanksgiving. They will begin spreading out and traveling,” said Eloise Waters, Bradley County Health Department director.
It takes the body roughly two weeks to gain adequate protection after vaccination, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services at Flu.gov. Early vaccination is a preventative measure. It lowers the chance of coming into contact with the virus during the two-week period.
Flu vaccines can be received at a variety of locations in the Cleveland and Bradley County area. One such place is the Bradley County Health Department. Vaccinations cost $20 and are offered through injection and mist. Flu Mist vaccinations are reserved for uninsured children from the ages of 2 to 17. American Natives, Alaskan Natives, and some Islanders can receive the mist even if insured.
“If someone just walks in, then that is OK. Our regularly scheduled patients will come first,” Waters said. “If somebody does not have the ability to pay, then with information from them, the number could slide, according to their income. It could be a fee of zero.”
Health care providers began pushing this year’s vaccine in September. Flu season usually begins in December and continues through February. Cases have been reported as far out as May.
“If I am exposed to the flu today and I get the vaccine tomorrow, then I may still get the flu within the next week or so,” said Kim Bishop, BCHD nursing supervisor.
This occurrence contributes to the belief flu vaccinations cause the flu. Certain additional factors encourage the misconception.
- Non-flu viruses circulating during flu season sometimes have similar symptoms.
- Individuals with lower immune systems can remain unprotected postvaccination.
- Individuals exposed by an influenza virus different from the three addressed in this year’s vaccine would cause flu symptoms postvaccination.
Soreness, headaches, nausea and fever are mild reactions and common side effects to flu vaccines. These side effects lead some to believe the flu vaccine has given them the flu. Contracting the flu due to a vaccination is not possible, according to Flu.org.
The flu vaccine contains inactivated (dead) flu viruses, while the nasal spray contains weakened live viruses. According to studies, the weakened live viruses can only cause infection in the cooler temperatures found in the nose. Areas like the lungs are too warm for the infection to take effect.
“The live vaccine (spray) will cause a slight fever. That is why if you have diabetes or asthma, we do not recommend you take the live vaccine because your immune system can be compromised,” Bishop said. “They are very minor side effects. It is just enough of the side effects to give your body the flu to kick-start your immune system.”
Further side effects can be incurred by individuals with the following: a severe allergy to chicken eggs, a moderate-to-severe illness with a fever, a history of Guillain-Barre Syndrome, or a history of severe reaction to a flu vaccination. If these apply, then Flu.gov suggests affected individuals speak with a health care provider before vaccination. Children 6 months and younger cannot receive the vaccine.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention work each year with the Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization, along with public health experts, to prepare for flu season. According to CDC.org, influenza virus samples and global disease patterns are studied to identify virus strains likely to cause the most illness.
“Flu vaccines are manufactured by a small number of places,” Bishop said. “It is not a quick process. You cannot just mix a couple of things together. You have to grow this out and develop the vaccine ...”
This year’s three strands are:
- A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)-like virus
- A/Victoria/361/2011 (H3N2)-like virus
- B/Wisconsin/1/2010-like virus
Sometimes additional strands are identified postproduction.
Some flu strains are “picked up from birds. As they migrate and come back from the cold area, they are spreading it,” Bishop said. “The flu vaccine is made up of everything that was identified last year as a flu organism.”
Sometimes a late flu strand is identified. This occurred several years ago when the bird flu came in May. An additional vaccine was made for the shot. The public responded with wariness for the separate vaccine.
“Some folks did not want to take the H1N1 flu vaccine. They do not realize they have been getting the H1N1 flu shot every year as a part of their normal flu vaccine for the last three years,” Bishop said.
According to Waters, the vaccine was already in production by the time the bird flu hit. A separate vaccine for the unexpected flu went into production.
“If we had had time, then everyone would have taken the vaccine and it would not have been a big deal,” Bishop said.
An educated guess is made each year by professionals working on the flu vaccine. According to Waters, samples are taken throughout the year as part of the normal identification process. A vaccine’s effectiveness depends on how well the viruses in the vaccine match those in circulation.
The Department of Health encourages vaccines for an overall community immunity.
According to Flu.gov, “When a critical portion of a community is immunized against a contagious disease, most members of the community are protected against that disease because there is little opportunity for an outbreak.”
Everyday practices can be maintained to stop the spread of germs. These include: washing hands often with soap and water; avoiding contact with eyes, nose, or mouth; covering with a tissue while coughing or sneezing; staying home for 24 hours following flu-like symptoms; and avoiding contact with sick people.