University health epidemiologist answers questions about flu, flu shot

SAINT ANTHONY – This year’s flu season started earlier than usual and tens of thousands of Texans have already gotten sick.

As cases continue to rise, Dr Jason Bowling, University Health Hospital Epidemiologist and Associate Professor at UT Health SA, answered some frequently asked questions about the flu and the flu vaccine.

Q: What is the difference between influenza A and influenza B?

Dr. Bowling: There are some differences in molecular structure, but you can get really sick from both strains. The main thing to recognize is that each flu season actually has several different circulating strains of flu, which means that people can become infected with different strains. It also highlights why natural immunity is not sufficient to protect against infection from a different strain.

Q: Is this year’s flu vaccine effective against the strains we are seeing?

Dr. Bowling: It’s still early in the season, but the CDC is sampling circulating isolates to see how well they match the vaccine strains, and early results show that the flu isolates selected for the vaccine appear to be a good match. of flu season, but it’s a promising start.

Q: If you get the flu before you get the flu shot, do you still need to get the flu shot? How long do you have to wait?

Dr. Bowling: You should still get a flu shot even if you’ve had the flu because there are several strains circulating. That’s why there are four different strains in this year’s quadrivalent flu vaccine. Natural immunity does not provide enough protection to protect you from illness from a different strain in the same flu season. As for the timing, it can vary depending on the individual, but it is generally recommended to wait until you have fully recovered from the acute flu infection and your immune system is close to baseline so that you have a sufficient immune response to the vaccine. For most people, this is at least two weeks, but it may be better if you wait around four weeks.

Q: If you’ve been exposed to the flu and haven’t gotten the flu shot, should you get it right away or wait?

Dr. Bowling: Exposure is not a good reason to wait. The flu shot won’t prevent you from getting sick if you’ve actually been exposed, but many people are being exposed right now without knowing it. There’s a lot of flu virus circulating, so if you’re not already acutely ill, it’s best to get the flu shot right away, even if you’ve been exposed, because you’re likely to be exposed again soon.

Q: Do you recommend Tamiflu for children?

Dr. Bowling: The benefit is greatest for children with severe illness. If children are admitted to the hospital with the flu, they should definitely receive Tamiflu, and I would consider it for children who are at high risk of severe disease progression, such as a child who has an underlying medical condition. If oseltamivir (Tamiflu) is started within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms, it can reduce the duration of symptoms by about 24 hours (1 day). If it’s an otherwise healthy child, Tamiflu probably won’t make much of a difference.

Q: If you have flu A, could you get flu B at the same time or one after the other?

Dr. Bowling: It is possible to get viral co-infections with two strains of influenza, but we usually see people infected with influenza and a non-influenza virus at the same time. And you can also get one right after the other.

Q: How long after symptoms develop are you contagious?

Dr. Bowling: How long you’re contagious after the first symptoms can vary—children and immunocompromised people will shed virus longer—but most people are considered contagious to others about 5-7 days after flu symptoms appear.

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