Flu Shot Fail? Not Necessarily

If you got your flu shot as recommended, you might be discouraged by the latest news from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): This year’s flu shot isn’t as effective as experts had hoped.

Flu experts use data from flu strains detected around the world to predict the three most common strains each year, and those strains are included in the annual flu vaccine. While the experts predict the correct strains most of the time, the CDC says that more than half of the virus samples collected during fall of 2014 were different from those included in the vaccine due to a mutation.

According to the CDC, influenza A (H3N2) — a strain that has caused increased flu hospitalizations and deaths in the past — is the most common flu strain seen so far this year. In a press conference, Tom Frieden, M.D., director of the CDC, said this flu season could be more severe than most and result in more hospitalizations and more deaths than usual.

Should You Still Get It?

In Texas, we’re already seeing dangerous flu activity. The Walgreens Flu Index, which tracks flu data nationally based on the drugstore’s weekly prescriptions for antiviral flu medications, currently rates Texas as the No. 2 state for flu activity. As of early December, Tarrant County Public Health had reported two flu-related deaths, and Dallas County Health and Human Services reported a 330 percent increase in positive flu cases in late November, as compared with the same week in 2013. So far, one flu-related death has been reported in Dallas County.

While the flu vaccine isn’t necessarily effective against the most common strain, it still provides protection against other strains that are also circulating. The flu shot can also reduce the severity of symptoms for those who contract the virus, so doctors are still recommending that patients — particularly those at a higher risk of flu complications — get the vaccine.

The flu shot is recommended for everyone age 6 months and older, but it’s particularly important for children younger than 5, seniors age 65 and older, pregnant women, and those with compromised immune symptoms.

“It’s too early to say for sure that this will be a severe flu season, but Americans should be prepared,” Dr. Frieden says. “We can save lives with a three-pronged effort to fight the flu: vaccination, prompt treatment for people at high risk of complications, and preventive health measures, such as staying home when you’re sick, to reduce flu spread.”

To find a primary care physician who can help treat your flu symptoms, visit THPG.org.

Physicians employed by Texas Health Physicians Group practice independently and are not employees of the hospital or Texas Health Resources.

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