Flu season is upon us, and many people are unsure about whether or not they should get vaccinated. Common misconceptions about the effectiveness of flu shots have caused some uncertainty surrounding the topic, but infectious disease specialist David Condoluci, DO, of Jefferson Health-New Jersey, helped to provide some clarity. He recently fielded questions that were submitted by our Jefferson Health Instagram followers regarding flu prevention, vulnerability to the flu after vaccination, and how pre-existing conditions affect the decision to get vaccinated.
Q: If I get the vaccine can I still get the flu?
A: “Yes, because the vaccine may not be the right vaccine for that particular strain that year. Also, your antibody response may not be brisk to the vaccine, depending on your immune status and therefore not ensure good protection.”
Q: Is it true with a cold you should keep moving but with the flu, you should rest?
A: “For both illnesses, you should let your body rest and drink plenty of fluids to stay well-hydrated. You should also use acetaminophen rather than aspirin for a fever. With the flu, you would not likely want to move around, as you generally have fever and chills and your muscles ache all over — you’ll want to stay in bed. A cold is much milder and generally, you do not have a high fever; with that said, when you are sick with a viral illness, you should allow your body the needed rest and sleep until at least the fever is resolved.”
Q: Should you get a flu shot with an autoimmune disease when you are taking immunosuppression for it?
A: “I would say yes, unless you have one of the contraindications to taking the flu shot, like an allergy to eggs, prior allergic reaction to the flu vaccine or a history of Guillain-Barre syndrome. In an immunosuppressive illness, the vaccine may not produce a brisk response that one might see in a person with a normal immune system, but still, it may blunt the severity of the flu if you get it. You should check with your doctor to determine if you are a candidate for the vaccine even if you have such an illness.”
Q: Aren’t vaccine adjuvants like aluminum toxic to those with the MTHFR gene?
A: “It seems that people with good genes and no detoxification issues have no problems with eliminating aluminum at small does. However, those with detoxification issues due to polymorphisms like MTHFR may be more susceptible to the repeated doses of aluminum and may have more issues eliminating it and other heavy metals from their system. There is limited information on this topic and the answer is that each instance should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and, if there are genetic detoxification issues and already heavy metals in the system, there should be caution about adding more to the system, like aluminum. You should consult with your doctor on getting a vaccine under these circumstances.”
Q: Is it true that there are multiple strains of the flu and the vaccine only handles one of them?
A: “It is true that there are multiple strains of the flu. The vaccine is usually trivalent or quadrivalent, meaning that there are three or four vaccine strains in the shot that are most likely to cause the flu that season. That being said, the flu virus often mutates and despite the best efforts to pick the right vaccine combination for a particular flu season, there may be a season where the vaccine for that year may not protect a particular strain.”
Q: How do I protect against getting the flu if I’m not able to get a flu shot?
A: “The first and most basic way is to constantly sanitize your hands, as this is the predominant way the germs are spread. The second is to avoid locations when possible where there are crowds (like at the mall) during flu season, where there are abundant ways to get the virus through contact and respiratory spread. Third, you can wear a mask to minimize breathing in the virus, but generally, the surgical masks you see people wear are not sufficient to protect against virus inhalation. You would need a stronger mask, such as M90, which needs to be form- fitted to get maximum protection. Individuals who cannot take the vaccine for medical reasons or religious reasons during flu season one can take Tamiflu 75mg once a day to try to prevent getting sick with the flu. Get plenty of rest, stay hydrated and avoid being around those that have the flu are basic rules.”
Use Dr. Condoluci’s recommendations and tips to prevent yourself from catching the flu this winter season!