Deadly Virus Strikes the U.S.
By Michael Engel, MD
In 2018 a deadly virus killed approximately 60,000 people in the U.S. including adults and children.
The virus was easily spread and could be spread by infected people even one day before they noticed symptoms. People infected were often very ill for 7 days or more. Adults diagnosed with this illness were 6 to 10 times more likely to have a heart attack within seven days of the onset and 8 times more likely to have a stroke within 3 days. People with diabetes with this infection were 4 times more likely to need an ICU admission and 2 times more likely to die.
The same virus circulates through our population at least once every year.
What is this dangerous virus, and why don’t we have a vaccine to fight it? The answer is… influenza, and the flu shot will help protect you!
There are several strains of influenza virus, and they mutate frequently – making a perfect vaccine difficult to produce. Researchers monitor the virus and create a vaccine for the following season, based on the most likely strains to be circulating in the next flu season (generally from October to May, peaking between December and February). For this next season, there are several vaccines available in the U.S. Although they differ slightly, they are equally recommended by the CDC. Talk to your physician about which vaccine would be best for you.
Unfortunately, there are many myths and misconceptions about the influenza vaccine:
- “The flu shot will give me the flu.”
Because the injected forms of the vaccine do not contain live virus, it is impossible to get the flu from a flu shot.
- “I got the flu shot last year, and I got sick anyway.”
The flu shot is not 100 percent effective. The strain circulating may not be a good match with the strains covered by the vaccine, or you may not have had a good immune response to the vaccine. Also, it generally takes at least 2 weeks after administration to get the full protection. This does not mean you won’t have better results this year.
- “I had my flu shot last January.”
The vaccine given in January is for the flu season ending in May. That vaccine may not cover the strains expected for this flu season. Get the current vaccine.
- “My kids don’t need a flu shot. That’s just for old people.”
The influenza vaccine is recommended for nearly everyone over 6 months of age.
- “If I get the shot, then I won’t get sick this winter?”
Not exactly. The flu vaccine only helps to protect against the specific strains of influenza that were chosen. You still can get other viruses and even other strains of influenza, and there is no protection from the “stomach flu.”
- “I don’t need the flu shot. I’m healthy, and I never get sick.”
You may have an excellent immune system, but does everyone around you? Are you around someone who is elderly, an infant, someone who has chronic medical conditions, or is pregnant? You would not want to help spread disease to anyone else. And don’t forget that it is possible for even young, healthy people to get very sick and even die from influenza.
- “I’m allergic to something that’s in the flu shot.”
Since there are several different vaccines available now, there may be one that does not have the component that you react to. Ask your physician if there is a flu shot that is right for you.
- “I don’t get the shot, because it doesn’t always work.”
This is true, but remember that the same thing can be said about parachutes. I know I’m not going to jump out of an airplane without one!