Q&A: Scramble for vaccine as flu season heats up

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 13, 2013 at 5:02 am •  Published: January 12, 2013
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Q: Should I still hunt for a vaccine?

A: It does take two weeks for full protection to kick in. Still, health officials say it's a good idea to be vaccinated even this late, especially for older people, young children and anyone with medical conditions such as heart or lung diseases that put them at high risk of dangerous flu complications. Flu season does tend to be worst in January and February, but it can run through March.

Q: I heard that a new flu strain is spreading. Does the vaccine really work?

A: Flu strains constantly evolve, the reason that people need an updated vaccine every year. But the CDC says this year's is a good match to the types that are circulating, including a new kind of the tough H3N2 strain. That family tends to be harsher than other flu types — and health officials warned last fall that it was coming, and meant this winter would likely be tougher than last year's flu season, the mildest on record.

Q: But don't some people get vaccinated and still get sick?

A: Flu vaccine never is 100 percent effective, and unfortunately it tends to protect younger people better than older ones. But the CDC released a study Friday showing that so far this year, the vaccine appears 62 percent effective, meaning it's working about as well as it has in past flu seasons.

While that may strike some people as low, Frieden said it's the best protection available. "It's a glass 62 percent full," he said. "It's well worth the effort."

Q: What else can I do?

A: Wash your hands often, and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Viruses can spread by hand, not just through the air. Also, cough in your elbow, not your hand. When you're sick, protect others by staying home.

And people who are in those high-risk groups should call a doctor if they develop symptoms, added CDC spokesman Tom Skinner. They might be prescribed antiviral medication, which works best if given within the first 48 hours of symptoms.

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AP Medical Writers Lindsey Tanner and Mike Stobbe contributed to this report.

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