Flu season is at its peak in February, and it’s expected to last well into the spring months. This season has been particularly bad – according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), flu deaths have risen dramatically since mid-January, especially among young and middle-aged adults and children.
The most common virus this year is H1N1, responsible for the global pandemic in 2009.
It’s not too late to get vaccinated against the flu. The vaccine this year protects against H1N1 and 2-3 other strains. The flu shot is especially important for people with asthma who are at high risk for complications, such as pneumonia.
Why is vaccination so critical? A study conducted by Duke University Medical Center from Nov. 1, 2013 through Jan. 8, 2014 found that 91 percent of flu patients in the hospital’s intensive care unit had not received the flu vaccine.
A common question is, “How long does the vaccination last?”
Protection should last up to a year, according to CDC. That’s why it’s recommended people get immunized every year – and as early as possible when vaccines become available every September.
The New York Times’ “Ask Well” blog quoted John J. Treanor, MD, an infectious disease expert at the University of Rochester (N.Y.) Medical Center, as saying the length of immunity depends on how well your immune system responds to the vaccine. Among young, healthy individuals, protection could even last several years, Dr. Treanor said.
Age, overall health and chronic conditions such as asthma could shorten the length of immunity, since people with weaker immune systems generate fewer protective antibodies from the vaccine, according to CDC. Discuss ways to strengthen your immune system with your doctor.
Vaccination remains the best protection against the flu for you and your family. The CDC recommends it for everyone 6 months or older. People with asthma should ask for the vaccine with the inactivated virus – not the nasal spray vaccine.
Keep in mind that it takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in your body and provide protection against the flu.
If you get sick with the flu: call your doctor right away and take prescription antiviral medications such as Tamiflu®. (People with asthma should avoid Relenza®, another antiviral medication, because there is risk it may cause wheezing.) Antiviral medications can reduce the severity of symptoms and shorten the length of illness.