As far as health care practitioners are concerned, only those illnesses caused by an influenza virus should be termed flu, as opposed to gastric upsets or colds. There are three types of influenza virus: A, B and C, typically of which only type A is dangerous. These three types of virus are active primarily in the winter months. Type A specifically has thousands of variations, each of which can change from year to year. Flu often spreads globally in waves.
Exhaled or coughed droplets usually transfer the infection, but only about half of the people infected become ill. The immune system in the other half of people exposed to the illness is able to keep the virus in check.
Flu breaks out suddenly and is accompanied by high temperature, loss of appetite, headache and muscle pain and shivering. The duration is usually about a week, although some people may not be well again for several weeks.
Influenza can also lead to several different complications, such as sinusitis, middle-ear infections, chest infections or heart muscle inflammation (myocarditis). For those who already suffer from chronic lung or heart disease (this applies to the elderly in particular), flu can lead to pneumonia, which is often fatal. Even in a flu season with a fairly low incidence of the virus, several thousands deaths can be attributed to influenza.
The Flu Vaccine
Vaccines for influenza have been around for many years. They consist of inactivated vaccines and are prepared each year according to advice provided by the World Health Organization (WHO), which recommends which strains of virus should be included in the inoculations. Because this changes, flu vaccinations should be repeated each year so a person can receive the appropriated, approved vaccine for that particular year.
The flu vaccine is injected into muscle or subcutaneous fatty tissue and is effective after about 14 days. Current recommendations are for everyone over 65 years of age to receive the vaccine, as well as everyone over 6 months of age who is part of a high-risk group, such as diabetics; asthmatics; and people suffering from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), chronic heart disease, chronic kidney disease and immune-suppression illnesses. People who live in residential homes and healthcare workers should also receive the flu vaccine.
Women who are in their first trimester of pregnancy should not receive the vaccine, nor should babies who are under 6 months of age. Those people with a known allergy to chicken protein should avoid taking the vaccine.
There are typically several vaccines that protect against different strains of flu.
Vaccination Failure and Side Effects
Approximately 70-90 percent of healthy people respond to the vaccine by forming antibodies. This protective effect lasts for a year, at most. For elderly people, the vaccine elicits a defensive reaction in only about half of those vaccinated. The protective effect lasts for less time as well, possibly for as little as four months.
The flu vaccine does not protect against flu-type illnesses, but only against influenza variants contained in the particular vaccine which was administered. When virus-types appear which are other than the experts predicted, the vaccinations can be mostly ineffective, such as what happened in Switzerland in the flu epidemic of 1997-1998.
The vaccination causes temporary swelling at the injection site in about one third of the people who are vaccinated. However, serious complications from flu vaccines are few and are so far uncomfirmed.
Recommendations and Considerations
There are two typical arguments against immunization as related to the indirect side effects of an influenza vaccination. They are:
- If one has a feverish illness such as influenza, it could provide the immune system with the ability to better cope with severe illness later on, thereby improving the overall health of an individual and the population at large. Note: this does not apply to people who already have chronic or serious illnesses.
- Research has shown that having flu decreases the risk for getting melanoma, or skin cancer. A similar link has been related to other types of cancer as well.
Groups Who Do Not Recommend Vaccines
Of course, there are also groups of researchers and health care practitioners who do not believe in the efficacy of vaccinations, and in influenza vaccines in particular. These groups can cite case after case where they believe the deaths caused before the advent of vaccinations were directly related to poor nutrition and unhygienic living conditions.
- Ada, G.L. (2000).Vaccination : the facts, the fears, the future. Sydney, N.S.W. : Allen & Unwin
- Godfrey, M. & Anderson, R. (2002). Exploding the myth of vaccination. Tauranga : R. Anderson
- Scheibner, V. (1993). Vaccination : 100 years of orthodox research shows that vaccines represent a medical assault on the immune system. Blackheath, NSW : V. Scheibner
- Studer, Hans-Peter. (2010). Vaccination : a guide for making personal choices. Edinburgh : Floris
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