Flu virus mutation intensifies outbreak

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Pharmacy intern Jenny Perelmuter (top right, bottom) prepares a flu shot at an all-day clinic. Though the shot is less effective against the current strain, many still choose to get the vaccination. SWETHA NAKSHATRI / PHOTO
Pharmacy intern Jenny Perelmuter (top right, bottom) prepares a flu shot at an all-day clinic. Though the shot is less effective against the current strain, many still choose to get the vaccination. SWETHA NAKSHATRI / PHOTO

Junior Catherine Meador laughed as she recalled the fuss she made as a young girl when she received a flu shot.

“They actually had to pin me down and do it into my leg because I resisted so much,” Meador said. “After that, my mom just thought it would be just much easier to not – to just do the flu mist.”

Ever since that incident, Meador has been getting the live attenuated influenza virus vaccine, or “flu mist,” every year. Although Meador was uncomfortable receiving a flu shot, she found she was still able to receive a vaccine by means of the flu mist. However, many people choose to forgo the vaccine altogether.

Although the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced recently that some influenza strains have undergone genetic drift and the vaccine may not be as effective as desired, it still encourages people to receive the vaccination. Nevertheless, data from the CDC shows that less than 50 percent of people in the United States receive a flu vaccine, although the CDC recommends all healthy individuals do so.
Screen Shot 2015-01-21 at 2.33.36 PMFlu Vaccine Efficacy and Coverage
According to Dr. Christopher Belcher, pediatric infectious disease physician at Infectious Disease of Indiana, the effectiveness of the vaccine can vary.

“The efficacy (of the influenza vaccine) varies from year to year because we have different strains of influenza that come around every year and because the vaccines are changing every year,” Belcher said. “Typically, they work to prevent about 60 to 70 percent of the cases of influenza.”

Nevertheless, Belcher said getting a flu vaccine is ultimately an important step to take because the consequences of getting influenza are too great.

“True influenza disease is the sudden onset of high fever, severe headache, sore throat and dry cough and then that can lead to problems like hospitalization, pneumonia, seizures, brain problems, all kinds of other complications. So for any of us to feel that bad and have fevers for a week, we may lose that many days of school or we may lose that many days of work,” Belcher said. “It can have a severe impact on your life.”

Belcher said he believes more people should receive the flu vaccine.

“I strongly recommend (receiving an influenza vaccine every year),” Belcher said. “Now, clearly not as many people get flu vaccines as need to.”

Senior Brady Arnold is one of the majority of people in the US who choose not to receive a flu vaccination.

“I’m healthy so I never really ever thought to do it,” Arnold said.

Arnold said he doesn’t feel a need to receive a flu vaccination because he has not received a flu shot “in the last five or 10 years” and he has not become ill with influenza in that time.

“My parents never really took me to get one, and then, I’ve never really gotten the flu either so I’ve never seen the need or reason to go get one,” Arnold said.

Junior Catherine Meador (top left) discusses flu vaccinations with CHS nurses. Meador said all healthy people should receive the vaccination, despite the recent virus mutation. ALEX YOM / PHOTO
Junior Catherine Meador (top left) discusses flu vaccinations with CHS nurses. Meador said all healthy people should receive the vaccination, despite the recent virus mutation. ALEX YOM / PHOTO

Vaccination Apprehensions

Nurse coordinator Kandyce Hardie said she believes many people choose not to get a flu vaccine because of misconceptions regarding potential side effects of the vaccination.

“I think people choose not to get (influenza vaccinations) because, primarily probably the negative publicity that the flu shot receives over social media or the news,” Hardie said. “Many people still believe that immunizations can cause autism or can actually give you the flu. Those are not true studies, but they are widely believed.”

Hardie was referring to an infamous 1998 research paper published in the medical journal The Lancet by former surgeon Andrew Wakefield. In the paper, Wakefield and his co-authors claimed there is a link between the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and autism spectrum disorder. Following the paper’s publication, organizations such as the CDC and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences conducted studies that found that no such link exists. The authors have since retracted the paper among claims by members of the medical community that Wakefield made fraudulent claims in the paper.

As for the influenza vaccine, the CDC states that one cannot contract any disease, including influenza, from the vaccine because it contains either a weakened form of the virus or in some cases, no virus at all. Furthermore, the CDC states that although one may have side effects from the vaccine, they are usually “mild and short-lived.”

Meador mentioned that another reason people may be reluctant to get the flu shot may be a fear of injections. However, she said she found a way to get over her own fears of injections by receiving the flu mist, which is also known as the nasal spray vaccine. The nasal spray vaccine is administered by means of a mist that is released into the nostrils. Thus, there is no injection involved.

“So originally, when we were little, (we got the flu mist) because my sister and I really didn’t like shots and we were very good at persuading our mom,” Meador said. “But when I became old enough where I could start to deal with it, I didn’t switch over because it’s a live virus.”

According to Belcher, the flu shot and the nasal spray vaccine are similar in how they are initially manufactured.

w.nakshatri.flushot.10“(The drug manufacturers) grow (the viruses) up every year in millions and millions of eggs,” Belcher said. “They let the virus grow in eggs and then they purify it out.”

However, the nasal flu vaccine is different from the flu shot in that it carries a live form of the influenza virus.

“The nasal flu vaccine is a whole influenza virus,” Belcher said. “It does live, and it does grow in your nose for a few days, but it’s been weakened so it can’t cause disease.”

The CDC recommends that children aged two to nine receive the nasal spray vaccine instead of the flu shot because it has shown to be more effective in preventing influenza in that demographic. However, Belcher said there isn’t sufficient evidence to make such a recommendation about older age groups.

Regardless of any apprehensions regarding the vaccine, some people cannot receive the influenza vaccine due to health reasons. Although Belcher states that “the list of people who really can’t receive flu vaccines is really short,” the CDC website provides information on people who shouldn’t receive a flu vaccine – among them, people with egg allergies and people with weak immune systems.

However, Arnold said he chooses not to receive a flu vaccine not because he is afraid of the vaccine but because he feels it’s not necessary.

“I think some people who have a weaker immune system might need it,” Arnold said. “But for people who don’t get sick very often, (like myself), I don’t think it’s a big deal.”

Preventative Care

Hardie said she recommends that anyone should get the influenza vaccine.

“(The vaccine is) just extra preventative care to help (people) stay well through the winter months,” Hardie said. “To me, it’s a no-brainer.”

Belcher maintains that people like Arnold should receive a flu vaccine even if they feel they don’t need one.

“It’s the same argument that you don’t put on your seatbelt because the last two times you drove, you didn’t get in a fatal accident,” Belcher said. “In general, about 20 percent of the U.S. population catches influenza every year and it’s actually higher in teens and children than the adult population. So, you know, you can only dodge (the virus) so many times.”

Although Arnold said he doesn’t believe the flu vaccine is an essential measure for everyone, Meador said she thinks everyone who is able to receive a flu vaccine should do so in order to ensure not only one’s individual health, but also the health of a community as a whole.

“I’d say it really is best to go and vaccinate yourself to (influenza). Especially during the school year when all of us are around each other so much, when somebody gets sick, we all get sick,” Meador said. “I think it’s important that we go ahead and vaccinate ourselves to something that’s so common like that.”

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