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What's in this Season's Flu Vaccine?

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It's early in the Fall, but flu season is just around the corner. Over 170 million individual flu vaccines will be made available in the US, with six manufacturers licensed by the FDA to make the vaccine for the 2011-2012 season. Let's take a look at what is in the vaccine this year, and why you should make a date with the end of a needle (or a nasal spray).

What makes up this Season's Influenza Vaccine?
The active components of the flu vaccine change from year to year, in order to keep up with changes in the virus. This year's cocktail includes variations of the A/California/7/2009 (H1N1), the A/Perth/16/2009 (H3N2), and the B/Brisbane/60/2008 viruses.


This combination yields protection protection against prominent forms of the A and B flu virus, along with H1N1. The "A" forms of the influenza virus have traditionally been responsible for flu pandemics. The 2011-2012 Northern Hemisphere influenza vaccine is made up of the same viral components as last year's vaccine, but you should still get the shot as your antibody titers (a method of measuring immunity) against the strains have very likely decreased over the past year. The viruses are chosen for the vaccine based on prevailing influenza trends monitored by the World Health Organization, and taking into account strains that were prominent in past years and the recent Winter in the opposite hemisphere.


Can you get the Flu from the Vaccine?
You cannot get influenza from receiving the vaccine, but you can experience some of your body's immune response reactions due to being injected with a virus, even though it is essentially dead. A low grade fever or aches are not uncommon (I received my flu shot this past Friday, and I won't lie, I had a mild headache and soreness around the injection site later that day). If you don't like getting shots, there are two methods of receiving the vaccine – via an injection into muscle tissue (often upper arm or thigh) or through a nasal spray. The injection method uses inactive (i.e. dead) strains of the 3 selected viruses, while the nasal spray contains attenuated (weakened) strains. Also, there's a new "micro-needle" vaccine delivery option (shown above) along with a high dose vaccine suggested for those 65 years and older, as that portion of the population often has a weaker immune system.

Why get Immunized? It's a Public Health Issue.
The CDC suggests that anyone over the age of six months should be vaccinated, save for individuals with allergies to chicken eggs (as chicken eggs are used to grow the viruses used in the vaccine), a history of Guillain–Barré Syndrome, or a previous allergy to flu vaccines. If you are vaccinated, you decrease the chance of obtaining influenza – save "sick" days for more reasonable excuses, like the comic book convention you want to go to or the DVD box set you need to get through.


Granted, getting a flu vaccine doesn't completely remove the possibility of getting the flu — however, it reduces your chances of getting sick, and, by extension, serves as an aid to public health by decreasing your chance of transmitting the flu to others. 5-20% of the population gets the flu each year, with over 200,000 hospitalized and with as many as 50,000 dying from its aftermath each year. You can also keep a track on possible influenza infections in your area, with Google's Flu Trends, which uses search engine trends to map the number of possible cases of influenza.


Where can I get the Vaccine and how much is it?
If you have health insurance, are a student with access to a student health facility, or have access to your local health department, your vaccine is more than likely discounted substantially or comes with no charge as it is preventative care. Many pharmacies are also providing the vaccine this year, making it easier to obtain (I received mine at a local retail pharmacy and it only took 5 minutes), and some vaccination sites are going to the extent of giving "drive-by" vaccinations. If you do not have health insurance, the flu vaccine typically costs around $30, with some retail pharmacies offering a gift card for the non-insured. Even at full cost, $30 can save a week out of work or school, and a costly visit to a physician, with prescription remedies available for influenza, like Oseltamivir, requiring treatment within 48 hours of symptoms arising in order to alleviate symptoms.

Images courtesy of the AP. Sources linked within the article.