With seemingly continuous news coverage of this year's influenza strain — and the damage it's already caused just a month into flu season — people all cross America are scrambling to take the necessary precautions to prevent contracting this monstrous virus. With hospitalizations due to the flu at an all-time high, and the reported death of 30 children, people are wondering if the 2018 flu shot works. And, if so, is it too late to get it? Turns out, the answer is somewhat complicated, which is why worried parents (hell, worried people) need to know a few thing about this year's flu shot.
According to CNN, this year's flu vaccine is 34 percent effective, compared to last season's flu shot's 42 percent effectiveness, and the 2015-2016 flu season shot's 47 percent effectiveness. The results came after a 2017 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed that a mutation occurred in the Influenza A H3N2 strain, limiting how effective the flu shot can be at any given time. Scott Hensley, author of the PNAS study and an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania, tells CNN that "a vaccine's effectiveness can vary, based on how well it matches the circulating virus strains." Hensley adds that estimating which exact parts of the vaccine failed is extremely difficult to do, but researchers are working on it.
Dan Jernigan, director of the influenza division at the national Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, tells Fortune that "this is the first year we have had the entire continental U.S. be the same color on the graph, meaning there is widespread activity in all of the continental U.S. at this point.” It's hard to know if we've reached the peak of the flu season, though some outlets report that the worst is yet to come. In other words, there could be even higher hospitalization and mortality rates ahead.
Thankfully, there are things you can do to help protect yourself. First of all, and even though flu season is already in full swing, it's not too late to get the flu shot. And because you should typically get the vaccination in the early fall preceding the next season, the sooner you get it, the better. Don't let the percentage of effectiveness sway you, either, because even 34 percent protection is better than none. The CDC says it's also important to ignore the myth that the vaccine causes you to get the flu. Generally speaking, when the dead virus is injected you may experience minor side effects, such as a slight fever, aches, and pains, but it's not the actual flu.
If you catch the flu before getting a shot, or still aren't sure whether or not to get one, know that our bodies do develop antibodies to ward off the flu's effects, and you can't catch the same flu twice. However — and this is a big one — Caroline Rudnick, an assistant professor of community and family medicine at St. Louis University, tells Real Simple that there are multiple strains of the flu circulating at any given time. This means even if you've just recovered from one strain, you can still get sick from another.
The flu shot does work, it's just not as effective as it was last year. And again, some protection is better than none. Aside from the vaccine, if you want to try to avoid catching the flu you should wash your hands frequently, cover your mouth when you cough, and stay home if you're experiencing flu symptoms and until those symptoms subside.
And while a universal flu vaccine hasn't been created just yet, early steps have been taken so that hopefully, one day very soon, there will be better flu prevention readily available to the public.
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