This year's flu shot has a 30 percent effectiveness, and you’re supposed to get it in the fall, but it’s still a good idea to get it even now if you haven't yet.
That’s the consensus of experts who discussed the deadly epidemic — at its highest levels in years — on the NPR show On Point Tuesday.
“Even if it's not 100 percent effective,” said Illinois pediatrician Dr. Shelly Flais, “it helps reduce the risks, complications and the risk of death.”
But, she added: “In the last several years, families often get complacent about what we call the flu.”
Said Michael Osterholm, director of the center for infectious disease research and policy at the University of Minnesota: “I think that the flu shot we have today is the best tool we have. And whether it's 10 percent, 20 percent, 30, 40 percent, it's better than zero.”
And for next year, Dr. William Schaffner, professor at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, suggested an early New Year’s resolution: “Come September, October, let's all get vaccinated. Take the whole family.”
Here are a few other tidbits from our show:
You can get the flu from just being in the same room as sick people.
“If I have influenza and you're standing within three to six feet of me in an enclosed space such as a room, when I breathe out, that contains microscopic amounts of the influenza virus,” Schaffner said. “Then you breathe it in — that influenza virus then can find a home back in your throat or down in your bronchial tubes. And what we've learned just recently, and it has been nicely documented, is that sometimes these influenza viral particles can actually get beyond three to six feet.”
The flu vaccine cannot give you the flu.
“You cannot get influenza from the influenza vaccine. That's that's not correct. That just doesn't happen,” Schaffner said.
Diet and exercise are important, but the flu is going to flu.
“Obviously a good diet makes us all healthier,” said Schaffner. “But the influenza virus can trump a good diet. This virus is capable of taking a perfectly healthy child in a perfectly healthy adult and putting them in the emergency room in 24 hours.”
The anti-viral drug Tamiflu can help. Take it quickly, once you get sick.
“It's not a miracle drug but it tends to reduce the duration of the illness a little bit and reduces the likelihood that you'll have a complication,” Schaffner said.
The flu vaccine isn’t perfect. A better, “universal” one is a ways away at current funding levels.
“Putting a few million dollars here and there into a flu vaccine is is not going to get us what we need,” Osterholm said. “It's going to take billions of dollars and extensive collaboration and research to get a vaccine done.”