Here’s a sampling of the conversations that Alabama Media Group has had with flu experts over the past year.
Click on links at the end of section to see more from the sampled story.
First up is Dr. David Kimberlin, a flu expert and pediatric infectious diseases doctor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham whom we tapped about this time last year.
1) Can you get the flu twice?
Kimberlin says yes you can because there is more than one type of virus out there. In fact, though most people don’t do it, if you have recovered from the flu and haven’t had a shot yet, go get one. The two types of flu circulating in our area Kimberlin said are the Influenza A H3N2 and a type of influenza B. If you got the first one, a vaccine might still protect you against the other one.
2) Can you get the flu in summer?
“Influenza is traditionally a winter-time illness,” Kimberlin said. There’s been a lot of speculation and research but no definitive answers as to why that’s true, he said. Some scientists have posited that the spread of the virus is related to the weather and a change in barometric pressure. Others say it is simply that more people are in closed quarters, coughing, sneezing and touching one another, thereby multiplying the chances of an outbreak.
“The honest answer is I don’t know,” Kimberlin said.
But summer flu is not impossible or unheard of. In fact during the pandemic of 2009, summer camps in the Carolinas were shut down due to the flu, Kimberlin said. (A pandemic is a worldwide spread of typically a new type of flu virus.)
3) Can you get sick from the flu shot?
This is a tricky one. The shot version of the flu vaccine does not contain live flu virus, so you would not be able to get the flu from the vaccine, Kimberlin said. However, he has a theory about how the shot might make you feel under the weather. What makes you feel bad when you get the flu is your body’s overreaction. “It’s not the virus – that’s staying in the lining of your lungs,” he said. “But your body overacts to the virus with inflammation — the fever, aches and chills that make you feel so bad,” he said.
In the same way, the shot of vaccine can make your body react, albeit in a less severe fashion, but it could be enough for you to feel like you have a touch of the flu.
The notion that you can get the flu from the vaccination was one of the “myths” listed by a husband-wife team of flu experts for Alabama Media Group in November. Diane and Jim Noah who study viruses at Southern Research Institute shared several “myths.”
MYTH 1: Flu isn’t such a big deal. After all, you get the flu, you get sick for a few days, you get better.
REALITY: “Flu itself is a tremendous global scourge,” Jim Noah said. “It’s not just because people get sick but it costs us billions of dollars in lost man-hours with people out of work, children out of school.”
That’s why its important to be vigilant in stopping flu’s spread. Cover your mouth when you sneeze. Stay home when you’re sick. Get vaccinated.
“The last thing you want to bring to grandma or grandpa’s house is the flu,” Jim Noah said.
MYTH 2: The flu vaccine can give me the flu.
REALITY: Like any vaccine, a flu shot can sometime cause a mild reaction — low grade fever, aches — as it tweaks your immune system but it doesn’t give you the flu, said Diane Noah.
“As adults we have forgotten what our children went through (with all the vaccinations) with low grade fever, the baby Tylenols,” she said. “Those minor aches and pains are really part of any vaccination.”
Diane said her mother wouldn’t get a flu shot because she said her mother had a heart attack a short time after a flu shot. “Mom made an association when there was no correlation there.”
MYTH 3: Flu vaccines rarely work.
REALITY: The Centers for Disease Control chooses its vaccine by reviewing flu strains circulating during the southern hemisphere during our summer, their winter, Jim Noah said.
“Occasionally the prediction is incorrect, but that has only happened once — 2004 — in the past 12 years,” he said.
Flu vaccines this year contain protection against three or four strains, depending on the vaccine.
“The CDC has gotten much better because of worldwide surveillance,” he said.
In late January of last year we talked to Dr. Turner Overton, a UAB infectious disease doctor.
Is it too late to get a flu vaccination?
It is not too late to get your flu shot. It is our most effective form of prevention against the flu. In general, flu season does not peak till February or March so I am encouraging people to go get vaccinated.”
How do you know you its the flu and not just a cold?
The only way you can be absolutely certain is to get tested for influenza by your health care provider, Overton said. That being said, influenza causes a certain constellation of symptoms that are more severe than a usual cold: severe muscle aches and headache are common with the flu. These are often disabling. The cough is often mild compared to other respiratory viruses.
How long is a person contagious when/after having the flu?
A person is infectious 1-2 days before they develop symptoms and up to 1 day after the fever with influenza resolves. During this period, they are shedding virus in their respiratory secretions that can unfortunately be transmitted to another person. We usually ask persons to stay home from work till 24 hours after the fever resolves. Most people are infectious for 2-5 days.
Certain persons who are immune-compromised such as transplant patients can shed virus for up to 2 weeks.
A few months ago, in October as this year’s flu season was getting cranked up, we called on Dr. Stephen Russell, University of Alabama at Birmingham associate professor in the Division of General Internal Medicine.
Who should get a flu shot?
Everyone 6 months of age or older should get the flu shot. This is the most effective way to prevent spread of the infection during an outbreak and to personally protect patients from illness and time missed from work
Is it safe to get a flu shot if I’m pregnant?
YES! We recommend that all pregnant women get the flu shot to reduce the risk of getting the flu or having complications if they do get sick. However, pregnant women need the shot and not the flu-mist nasal spray
Who should NOT get a flu shot?
Anyone who has had anaphylaxis to eggs (requiring treatment with an Epi Pen or hospital evaluation for a severe egg reaction) should not get the flu shot. However, patients who can eat eggs or have mild reactions to eggs may and should get the flu shot.
The flu mist nasal spray is not right for those with respiratory illness such as asthma, those with heart disease or diabetes. Each of these patient groups should get the shot.
For those readers who have already have been bitten by the flu and are suffering as we speak, we sought the advice of UAB Emergency Medicine Dr. Janyce Sanford last year.
If you think you have the flu, here’s what to do:
1) Get Tamiflu. If you can get to a doctor within the first 48 hours of infection, then the prescription antiviral drug Tamiflu (osteltamivir) might cut down on symptoms and reduce the flu’s tenure. But if you don’t make it within that window, there’s really no point, barring extra severe symptoms, in seeing a doctor. “There’s nothing much we can do,” Sanford said.
2) Stay home. Besides the fact that standing for longer than 5 minutes is iffy at best when the flu hits, there’s no good reason to go into your workplace and infect others. Sanford said typically wait at least 24 hours from your last fever before going back to work.
3) Cough into your sleeve. Not into your hands. Your hands are the most likely conductor of contagions. And keep those hands washed frequently for all those times you do forget to cough into your sleeve.