Flu mist is out, but an annual vaccination is still important
With flu season, it’s not a question of “if” but “when.”
“Sometimes epidemics hit in December and sometimes it’s March and it can be anywhere in between,” said Kathleen Kohut, the interim director for infection prevention for Cape Cod Healthcare.
It takes about two weeks after a flu shot for the body to fully mount a sufficient response, Kohut said.
“If you haven’t gotten your shot yet, get it now,” she said. “Flu activity overall, and particularly in Massachusetts, is really low, but that could change quickly.
“So far the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) feels this year’s shot is a good match for the strains that they’re seeing. So you’ll have good coverage to prevent getting the flu, if you get the vaccine.”
The nasal spray flu vaccine, or flu mist, is no longer recommended. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) did studies over the past three flu seasons and it did not show effectiveness compared to the vaccine, Kohut said.
That may be a disappointment for parents, since there aren’t many children who like getting shots.
“Better to deal with the shot than to deal with your child getting the flu, because the flu can make young children very sick,” she said.
Children are included among those most at-risk from the flu, as are people over 65.
“It’s a quick shot. I got it this year and I could barely tell I got it. I didn’t have a lot of arm pain,” Kohut said.
Flu Shots Protect Others
In addition to protecting ourselves, getting flu shot helps protect vulnerable people around us.
“It’s called herd immunity,” she said. “There are certain people who don’t mount a response, though very few, and there are those people who can’t take the vaccine. That’s how we protect those people. The theory is that if most people around you are immune, they won’t get the flu and they can’t give it to you.”
Some people hesitate to get vaccinated because they mistakenly think they can get the flu from a flu shot, which Kohut called “scientifically impossible.”
“There are a lot of types of flu, just like there are a lot of kinds of colds out there. Perhaps they got a different kind of flu right after they got the flu shot. They don’t see the benefit of the shot because they got sick anyway.
“The particular flus that we vaccinate against are the ones that cause the epidemics. It’s important to participate in that if you can.”
How To Avoid The Flu
Kohut offered two more tips for avoiding flus and colds this winter.
“The major thing is to always practice safe hand hygiene,” she said. “It’s the number one thing you can do to keep yourself healthy Wash your hands with soap or use alcohol-based sanitizers, particularly before you eat and after helping someone who has the sniffles.
The other practice is cough etiquette, she said. Kohut advises teaching your children and yourself to cough into your elbow, rather than into their hands, if they don’t have a tissue available.
“Children are very good at this and it’s the adults who need to learn that. I see many adults who still cough into their hands and then their hand is contaminated and they’re spreading their germs all around,” she said.
After all that, if you still wind up with the flu, do everyone else a favor and stay home, she said. Check with your doctor within the first 24 to 48 hours to see if you can get a prescription medication, such as Tamiflu, that will shorten the lifespan of the flu.
For tips on when you should wash your hands, read this Cape Cod Health News story.
Want to learn about the science behind cough etiquette? Watch this short video by the MythBusters.