Expert Advice

Flu season

flu season

How effective is the flu vaccine?

The flu vaccine is not 100 percent effective, and its impact varies depending on the person’s age and health status. But it continues to be the best protection against the flu virus, which can be severe. Also, the flu vaccine does not always prevent the flu. However, it is good at preventing death and hospitalizations due to the flu and complications of the flu.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 36,000 Americans die and more than 200,000 are hospitalized each year due to complications from the flu. The virus causes high fever, headaches, body pains, extreme fatigue, sore throat, cough and other unpleasant symptoms. While some cases of flu are mild, others can be more serious and even life-threatening.

As there are different strains of flu every year, there is an update to the flu shot each year to defend against the dominant strains. Vaccines help to teach our bodies to identify the virus and then defend against it. When more people get vaccinated, less flu infection can spread throughout the community.

The CDC estimates that the flu vaccine reduces people’s chances of getting the flu by around 60 percent. Healthy adults have the best response to the vaccine. Immunity weakens as we age. Because the flu is more dangerous in older adults, it’s critical that older people — adults over age 65 and those with compromised immune systems — receive the vaccine.

The CDC recommends that others with compromised immune systems receive the vaccine. This includes children younger than 5; pregnant women; and people with various medical conditions, such as asthma, chronic lung disease and heart disease. These groups are at higher risk of developing complications from the flu. The CDC recommends that everybody over 6 months of age receive the vaccine. Vaccinating healthy people can prevent it from spreading to those who cannot fight the flu, since it is very contagious.

As the flu season peaks in February or even later, it’s a good idea for everyone to get a flu shot, even in January.

Allison Baroco, MD, is on staff at Augusta Health Infectious Disease. To make an appointment, call (540) 213-2630.

In addition to receiving the flu vaccine, follow these tips to help prevent the spread of the flu:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth unless you have just washed your hands.
  • Eat well, exercise, drink lots of water and get enough sleep.
  • Try to avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze.