The flu hit me hard this year.
Okay, I can't prove it was the flu. By the time I felt bad enough to suspect that what I had was more than a garden-variety cold, I' d already been under the weather for three days. And as any good health columnist knows, that means it was too late for anti-influenza medications to help me.
So instead of going to the doctor and getting a flu test, I just hunkered down and waited out the fever, cough, respiratory problems, body ache and sore throat. The main symptoms relented a couple of days later, but even as I write this, I'm still not 100 percent.
Whenever I share my tale of woe, people inevitably respond by asking (in a judgmental tone), “Well, did you get your flu shot?”
Why, yes, I did. But I got whacked anyway. How can that be?
Dr. Prescott Prescribes
The symptoms you describe sure sound like influenza. Of course, there are other viruses floating around that could cause similar symptoms. But given the prevalence of flu this season, your self-diagnosis sounds like a pretty good one.
The seasonal flu vaccine only blocks infection only 50 to 70 percent of the time. Sometimes, this is because the strains of flu that we vaccinate against turn out to be different than the ones that subsequently sweep across the country each winter.
Other times, even when vaccines turn out to be spot-on, some people's bodies still fail to produce enough flu antibodies after getting the shot.
Generally, the flu vaccine works best in older children and young healthy adults. As we get older, our bodies tend not to respond as well to the vaccine. At the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, our scientists are studying why this happens in some people — and how we can help them improve their responses.
This doesn't mean you should avoid vaccination. The flu shot will still prevent infection in many people. And if you do get infected, the antibodies you form in response to the shot can still blunt the effects of the illness.
If you want to increase the odds that a flu shot will work for you, exercise and physical fitness can be key. Scientists have found that in elderly, sedentary people, a 10-month program of brisk walking significantly improved responses to flu vaccination.
Prescott, a physician and medical researcher, is president of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. Cohen is a marathoner and OMRF's senior vice president and general counsel.