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Experts: Vaccine best way to fight 'moving target'

By JACOB H. FRIES, Times Staff Writer
Published November 5, 2007

The best way to prevent the flu is simply to get vaccinated, officials say. And because the virus changes, it is necessary to get a new shot every year.
[AP photo (2006)]

Flu season is here again, and it's nothing to ignore.

Every year, millions across the country get the virus. More than 200,000 end up in hospitals. About 36,000 people, most of them elderly, die.

But don't panic, health officials say. There's plenty you can do to protect yourself. Wash your hands often, keep your distance from sick people and get plenty of sleep.

The best way to prevent the flu, however, is simply to get vaccinated, officials say. And because the virus changes, it is necessary to get a new shot every year.

"Influenza is definitely a moving target," said Dr. Carolyn Bridges, a flu expert at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "They are constantly changing."


Who should get vaccinated?

Anyone who wants to reduce the chance of getting the flu, the CDC says. But it is strongly recommended for people at high risk: children 6 months to 5 years old; pregnant women; people 50 and older; those living in nursing homes; and caregivers of children younger than 6 months old.

When should I get the vaccination?

Doctors say the best time to get vaccinated is October or November, but people can still get the shot in December or later. Flu season can begin as early as October and end as late as May.


Does it work right away?

No. The vaccine takes about two weeks to provide protection.

Can I get sick from the vaccine?

You can't get the flu from the vaccine because the viruses in the shot are dead. The risk of it causing a serious problem is minuscule, the CDC says, but in rare cases, people with severe egg allergies can have bad reactions.


Are there side effects?

People may experience soreness or swelling where the shot was given, low-grade fevers and aches. The symptoms usually last for only one or two days, if they appear at all.


Has the flu vaccine been linked to autism in children?

No, says the CDC. Most of the flu vaccines in the United States contain thimerosal, a preservative containing mercury, but federal health officials say there is no convincing evidence that the small amount of thimerosal causes any harm, besides some swelling and redness at the point of the injection. Manufacturers, however, are beginning to make some of the vaccines free of thimerosal and other preservatives.


Bottom line, how effective is the vaccine?

It depends on the health of the person and how well scientists match the virus strains in the vaccine to those in circulation. In years when the vaccine is well matched to the current virus strains, the vaccine can reduce a healthy adult's chance of getting the flu by 70 to 90 percent.

Jacob Fries can be reached at or 727 893-8872.

[Last modified November 4, 2007, 22:53:36]

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