MU Health Care Experts Say Vaccination Best Protection Against Flu
As flu season approaches, University of Missouri Health Care infectious disease experts say that getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent influenza and limit the spread of the disease.
"We are approaching the time when we recommend getting vaccinated against influenza," said Michael Cooperstock, MD, medical director of MU Health Care’s Infection Control Department. "Influenza outbreaks can happen as early as October and can last as late as May. However, here in central Missouri we typically start seeing cases by mid-November. Because the injectable vaccine takes up to two weeks to offer full protection after receiving it, it’s advisable to get vaccinated between now and early November."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continue to recommend the use of injectable flu vaccines. However, nasal spray flu vaccine should not be used during the 2016-17 influenza season.
"The CDC’s recommendation against the nasal spray flu vaccine is based on its low effectiveness against influenza A during the past two flu seasons,” Cooperstock said. “For that reason, they advise against its use this year. However, vaccination is still the best method of preventing the disease."
Influenza is a respiratory illness that can be life-threatening if it spreads through the upper respiratory tract and invades the lungs. Infants, children and the elderly have the highest rates of hospitalization from influenza. According to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, more than 20,000 laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza were reported statewide during the 2015-16 flu season.
"It’s important to receive a vaccination annually because there are many strains of flu viruses and they change each year," said Cooperstock. "The different strains of flu that are included in each year’s vaccines are reviewed annually and updated to match the expected circulating viruses for that flu season."
Traditional high-dose trivalent flu vaccines are made to protect against two influenza A viruses and one B virus. However, in recent years, a quadrivalent vaccine has been developed to protect against a fourth flu strain by adding a second influenza B virus. This quadrivalent vaccine is not recommended for people ages 65 and older, who should receive the traditional high-dose trivalent vaccine.
"Older patients are less susceptible to influenza B virus because of previous exposure and therefore should be given the high-dose trivalent," Cooperstock said. "The quadrivalent vaccine is more effective in preventing the disease in patients under 65."
Although vaccination is the best way to prevent influenza ― approximately 70 percent effective ― an individual still can get the disease even if vaccinated. In such cases, the disease symptoms are milder than for those who have not been vaccinated.
"If you do get sick with the flu, it is important to stop its spread by staying home until you have gone at least 24 hours without a fever," Cooperstock said. "When coughing or sneezing, do so into your shirt sleeve or the bend of your arm. This keeps the germs off your hands and reduces the chances of spreading them to the next thing you touch. Some viruses, such as the flu, can live for hours on hard, nonporous surfaces like tables, computer keyboards, door knobs and desks."
Regular hand washing and the use of alcohol-containing hand gels also help prevent illness and the spread of germs to others. The best hand-washing technique for thorough cleaning includes:
- Wetting hands with clean running water.
- Lathering by thoroughly rubbing hands together with soap and scrubbing for at least 20 seconds to create friction that lifts dirt and germs from the skin.
- Drying hands using a clean towel or air dry them because germs can be transferred more easily to and from wet hands.
"Also avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth," Cooperstock said. "By keeping any germs that may be on your hands away from your face, you increase your chance of fighting off influenza."
In addition to offering vaccinations at its clinics, MU Health Care is donating 6,000 influenza vaccines to Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services. The donated vaccine will be used to provide free flu vaccinations to children 6 months to 18 years of age at Boone County public schools, participating private schools and the Public Health and Human Services clinic at 1005 W. Worley St. in Columbia.
Download a photo of Michael Cooperstock, MD.