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Public health nurse explains why this year’s bad flu could be a result of the flu shot

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Every year, we are faced with a new flu virus and every year we release a new flu vaccine in the hopes of keeping people from getting sick. But this flu season, we are experiencing more and more cases of severe sickness, and the highest number of flu related deaths in years!

Deadly Flu Season 

flu vaccineBut what is making this strain of the flu so deadly? This flu has been particularly tough on those who don’t have fully functioning immune systems, namely adults over 65 and young children. In fact, since October, 84 children have died from the flu in the U.S. alone [1]. The number of people coming down with the flu has also put a strain on doctor’s offices and hospitals, with hospitalization rates rising weekly. CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund stated that flu activity is still widespread in 48 states, with Hawaii and Oregon being the only outliers.

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And it’s not just the U.S. feeling the weight of the flu season. So far, three times as many people have died this flu season than the same period last year [2]. More and more people are entering hospitals because of the flu, and the number of people being admitted into intensive care is also rising.

So what can we do about the flu? Well for years, the governments’ first line of defense has been to recommend getting a flu vaccine. This vaccine contains a previous strain of the flu that has been modified to help our bodies resist and adapt to the any new strains we may encounter. But what if that flu vaccine is the reason people are getting so sick?

The Flu Vaccine Could Be The Reason You’re Sick

flu vaccineOn February 8th, Anna Treague, a nurse with Burnett County Public Health told the Burnett County Sentinel, “I believe that the low effective rate of the vaccine this year is due to the mutations that the virus made in the processing of the vaccine itself. That is at least part of the reason that influenza cases are so widespread this year.” [4]

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This year’s vaccine has not been as effective as we would have hoped. Preliminary figures, released by the CDC, suggest that the vaccine is only thirty-six percent effective overall at preventing the flu. Most cases of the flu this year are due to a nasty strain called H3N2, and the vaccine we have to fight it has only been shown to be twenty-five percent effective against it [3].

Does this mean that we have created a new form of the virus that is making us sick? The short answer is no, we did not create this new strain of flu. Vaccines are created by injecting strains of the flu into chicken eggs that sustain the virus, allowing it to proliferate and incubate before the antigens (chemicals formed by the virus that produce an immune response) produced in the egg are harvested [5].

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One hypothesis as to why this strain of the flu has been so unaffected by the vaccine is because during the fertilized egg process of creating the vaccine, the virus may have mutated at a faster rate in the egg. In the January edition of New England Journal of Medicine, many studies have shown that the H3N2 strain has the ability adapt itself to the conditions of a bird egg, creating antigens that have little to no effect on humans. This leaves us with ineffective vaccines.

This could be why people who have received the vaccine are still getting sick. Even though it could help some, many are still left defenseless, especially those whose own defenses (their immune systems) aren’t able to handle it on their own.

The best way to not spread the flu is to stay home when you start to feel ill, and to get lots of rest and fluids.

 

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