Last year you finally gave in to the nagging, or maybe it is an occupational requirement and got your flu shot. Then this year they showed up again asking you to get the flu shot that you got last year. Are they crazy? It is quite confusing that you have to get only one measles vaccine, but Influenza had to be all special and thus require you to get vaccinated annually.
To understand why this is so, you need to understand the Influenza virus.
What is Flu?
Influenza is a virus that invades and infects the respiratory system (your nose down to your lungs). However the illness can affect other organ systems too.
Common signs and symptoms are an early onset fever that may be accompanied with chills. The patient may experience headaches and myalgias (body pains), accompanied by fatigue. Other common symptoms are sore throats, coughs and the irritating stuffy nose.
The virus is very infectious, and is transmitted via droplets in the air. The ill individual may cough or sneeze, and then others inhale these droplets. Another means by which the virus spreads is when the sick individual rubs their eyes or nose and then they touch surfaces and objects (fomites), then others touch these fomites and in turn rub their own eyes and noses.
What Makes Flu Unique?
The Influenza virus is constantly mutating. These mutations are what allow the virus to be transmissible from animals to man. The Influenza viruses achieve this by two concepts: Antigenic drift and Antigenic Shift.
Antigenic drift is whereby the flu virus slowly over long periods of time. This what makes the season flu change causing us to require a vaccination every year. These changes happen frequently enough that hen the flu is back in our systems, our immune systems cannot recognize them. This is precisely the reason why everyone needs to continuously get their flu shots against the new strains that keep popping up.
Antigenic shift happens when two different strains of the flu virus combine into one, and then subsequently infect the same cell. This changes are not slow but very sudden. It is this that makes the flu viruses that jump from animals to man, such as avian flu and swine flu. As no one has any immunity to these new subtypes, they move rapidly through the population and very devastating very quickly.
Antigenic shift occurs in three possible ways:
- An aquatic bird transmits a strain of bird flu to a chicken or maybe a pig. A human being then comes and transmits one strain of Influenza A to the previously infected animal. These two viruses hit the same cell, and their genes mix forming a new strain. Then the new strain is transmitted to people.
- Sometimes a strain of bird flu just makes the jump from one of the aquatic birds to a person
- A strain of bird flu can be transmitted to a chicken or swine and then through them it gains access to humans
This kind of behavior is never seen in other diseases that we are frequently vaccinated for. Not in measles, pneumococcus, diphtheria or varicella. This is why Influenza is so hard to beat. The only way to protect yourself is to get vaccinated. So with the flu season fast approaching hop down to the nearest Publix or Kroger and get your annual flu shot. With their very affordable prices there is absolutely no reason why you and your family should not be protected all year round until the next flu season.