Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Flu Vaccines Available Now before the Virus Hits

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Flu Vaccines Available Now before the Virus Hits

Article excerpt

Two years ago, the flu infected a record-breaking number of Missourians. Last winter turned into a fairly average influenza season but the number of illnesses peaked late, in March.

The variation confirms the most enduring fact about flu it's unpredictable.

"Every year is a new year when it comes to flu," said Dr. Sharon Frey of St. Louis University's Center for Vaccine Development. "Will it be a milder season, heavier season, early season, late season? We really can't even guess."

Flu season can hit anytime between October and May. The flu vaccine, the best protection against illness, is now available in doctors' offices and pharmacies. Doctors recommend getting the shot as early as possible since it can take two weeks to develop immunity.

Influenza viruses cause respiratory illness with symptoms of fever, cough, muscle aches and fatigue. The virus is spread from person to person through droplets of saliva from sneezing or coughing.

Disease investigators monitor global virus activity to predict which three or four strains of influenza will spread in the next season and should be covered by that year's vaccine. Those scientists decided to change two out of three components for the main 2016 flu vaccine.

The vaccine will contain protection against the hardy H1N1 virus known as the swine flu that caused an epidemic in 2009 plus a new H3N2 strain and a new influenza B strain. Some other versions of the vaccine include an additional B strain and a more potent shot for people older than 65.

The nasal spray version of the vaccine, popular among children and those with needle phobias, is not recommended for use this year. The FluMist spray did not work well against the strains of flu that circulated last winter and spring.

"It doesn't mean in the future we may not see it again," said Jamie Woodyard, assistant professor at St. Louis College of Pharmacy. "It's just for this season the injections are more effective, and that's what everyone will be getting. …

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