While influenza viruses have been causing many infections in other areas of the United States over the past several weeks, they have finally arrived in Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara physicians are seeing many patients each day, some of whom are requiring hospitalization because they are so ill. This increase in number of flu cases in our community comes shortly after the CDC was quoted as saying this year’s influenza vaccine was not going to work and that it was not as good a vaccine as was made in previous years. Unfortunately, that impression is not accurate and if it causes people to not get their flu vaccine this year that would be very unfortunate. People should continue to get the vaccine if they have not received it yet, since influenza in our community will reach epidemic levels very shortly.
It is true that this year’s vaccine is not a great match to the circulating influenza A strain that is causing most of the infections to date. However, even with this mismatch, the vaccine accomplishes two important goals. In those who get the flu vaccine for this flu season, if they get infected with the predominant circulating influenza A virus, the resulting illness will be less severe than it would have been if they had not received the vaccine. It should prevent hospitalization and the development of severe complications from the flu. Each person will be protected in some way, but maybe not as much as the vaccine has offered protection in the past several years. In addition, in many people, protection will be as it usually has been because they will be infected with the other 2 or 3 viruses (depending on the vaccine received) that are in the vaccine and since these match the circulating virus much better, people will be suitably protected from getting sick with these other influenza viruses.
In short, it is as important as ever to get influenza vaccine. The vaccine can prevent influenza infection or it can make the infection much less serious if you are exposed. In either case, the vaccine will have a positive effect on those who have received it. The vaccine is the best method to prevent the spread of illness when combined with standard hand washing, cough covering and staying home, away from others, when sick with flu like symptoms. Going “without” this year and not getting a flu shot, because you believe that the vaccine will not work, is definitely not a smart decision.
If you do develop flu like symptoms, which include fevers, muscle aches, cough, sore throat of sudden onset, please call your doctor’s office for further care and management, as you may be a candidate for anti-viral therapy which can lessen the severity of illness.
- Dr. David Fisk, Dr. Mary-Louise Scully, and Dr. Alan Sugar of the Sansum Clinic Infectious Diseases Department