Time for Sore Arms

October and November mark the time health care providers begin offering vaccine for the prevention of influenza. Since the antibody protection against influenza can take a couple of weeks to develop, vaccine given now will be protective when influenza arrives on campus There’re a few science-based reasons why we advise some students to get flu vaccine, and encourage others to do the same. First, influenza is an incurable viral disease. While true that sometimes anti-viral therapy given early ( first 24-48 hours) of illness can reduce symptom severity, even under ideal circumstances, the benefit of these medications is quite small (improvement a day or so sooner with medication than without). Although there is no cure, vaccine can prevent influenza most of the time.Isn’t a flu shot just infecting me with the flu virus?Vaccine effectiveness is based to the fact that when manufacturers of influenza vaccine start production, their vaccine recipe includes viral particles derived from the predominant strains of flu identified worldwide the previous season. Providers at UVM’s Student Health Medical Clinic participate in a collaborative effort (Physician’s Influenza Surveillance Network) with the Vermont State Health Department and the Centers for Disease Control, providing case numbers and viral cultures which provide information that epidemiologists use when selecting vaccine components. Since 1997, flu vaccine has matched well with observed `wild’ virus. The 2003-04 vaccine is trivalent, containing 2 strains of inactivated Influenza A and 1 strain of type B. We expect that vaccine we provide this fall and winter will be protective for those getting it. What’s the big deal with getting the flu?First, there’s a common, but inaccurate, perception that many common viral diseases are “flu”. If you think you had a flu last weekend you probably didn’t! Influenza virus is not a cause of the common cold. Influenza A is characterized by a very rapid onset, high fever, body aches and pains, cough and significant (weeks, not days) recovery time. It isn’t uncommon that if you get influenza, you don’t want to get out of bed, much less go to class. With a typical course of a week or more, it’s easy to see that getting flu, especially before exam time, can be a catastrophe. Besides the usual misery, influenza virus produces a significant inflammatory response in lung tissue, which can not only make underlying diseases such as asthma worse, but can also lead to secondary bacterial pneumonia even in those with healthy lungs. Common cold viruses don’t have this same potential for causing severe and prolonged disease. Do you recommend that I get a flu shot?The providers at UVM recommend flu vaccine for those over 50, people with long-term health problems such as heart disease, lung disease, asthma, kidney disease, metabolic disease such as diabetes, anemia and other blood disorders. We encourage the vaccine for anyone else who doesn’t want to get the flu. Crowded conditions such as you encounter in our residence halls increases substantially the risk of large-scale flu outbreaks. However, if enough students get flu shots, the `herd immunity’ resulting will lessen the chance for flu to reach epidemic proportions. If you’re highly allergic to eggs, you shouldn’t get the flu vaccine, since virus for the vaccine is grown in eggs. Outreach efforts over the past few years, resulting in about 1000 staff and students receiving flu vaccine, may have helped, through herd immunity, to lessen the disease impact at UVM. There’s already a highly visible commercial promotion underway for a new vaccine delivered as a nasal mist. Although trials support this product’s safety, and although it may be enticing for those 20% or 30% of us afraid of needles, there are significant issues such as the fact that it costs 5 times more than the injection, and it isn’t recommended for asthmatics or those with weak immune systems because it’s a live virus vaccine. The Student Health Medical Clinic is not currently offering the flu vaccine mist. The flu mist contains weakened virus, and may cause a mild illness. Injectable vaccine contains inactivated viral particles and is NOT able to cause a flu, although for some an immune-system reaction from the vaccine may be misinterpreted as a mild case of the flu. If you miss the on-campus flu vaccine clinics, you can get the vaccine by calling 656-3350 for an appointment. There should be an adequate supply of vaccine available throughout the flu season.