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Body Work: When a flu shot is not enough

Columnist wonders why the flu shot didn't stop his illness
BY STEPHEN PRESCOTT AND ADAM COHEN Published: January 22, 2013

Adam's Journal

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.

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