Flu? It's Just Around The Corner
The big flu story so far this season is the potential for shortages
and delays in flu vaccine shipments. The Food and Drug Administration
and the national Centers for
Disease Control are working with vaccine manufacturers to ensure
there is enough vaccine for the 2000-01 flu season.
While a vaccine shortage is no longer anticipated, federal health
officials are recommending that healthy Americans postpone getting
their shots while manufacturers overcome a lag in production.
The elderly and the chronically ill, who are at the highest risk
of dying from the flu, should expect to receive flu shots in October.
Healthy people may wait until November for vaccinations, according
to recommendations from a CDC advisory panel. The flu season usually
peaks between January and March, so a flu shot in late November
should allow enough time for immunity to develop.
The government predicts that the expected of number of doses of
vaccine needed this year (about 74 million) will be available
but that less than half will be shipped before November.
Here are some "flu basics" as outlined by the CDC:
Influenza, commonly called the flu, is caused by the influenza
virus, which infects the respiratory tract.
The virus generally spreads from person to person when an infected
person coughs or sneezes.
Compared with other respiratory infections like the common cold,
the flu can cause severe illness and lead to serious and life-threatening
complications in all age groups.
Typical flu symptoms include fever, dry cough, sore throat, headache,
muscle aches, and extreme fatigue. Although the term stomach flu
is sometimes used to describe
gastrointestinal illnesses, this is caused by other organisms
and is not related to true flu.
Most people have no side effects from the flu vaccine. Arm soreness
at the injection site, sometimes associated with swelling, may
occur. Some people, usually children who have not been exposed
to influenza virus in the past, may have fever and body aches
after vaccination. These symptoms, if they occur, usually start
six to 12 hours after vaccination and can continue for one or
People with a severe allergy to eggs should not receive flu vaccination.
Influenza viruses continually change over time, and each year
the vaccine is updated to include the viruses that are most likely
to circulate in the upcoming influenza season. The influenza vaccine
(flu shot) that has been produced for the 2000-01 flu season contains
three influenza virus strains designated A/Panama, A/New Caledonia
In addition to flu viruses, other respiratory organisms commonly
circulate during the same period and can cause similar respiratory
illness. Although some studies have shown that the flu shot may
boost the immune system to decrease the frequency of other upper
respiratory infections, the vaccine can only be relied upon to
The most important major groups who should receive flu vaccine
are people 50 years or older; residents of nursing homes; children
and teens on long-term aspirin therapy; pregnant women who will
be in their second or third trimester during flu season; and people
of any age with chronic diseases of the heart, lung and kidneys,
or who have diabetes, immunosuppression or severe forms of anemia.
People who are in close or frequent contact with anyone in the
high-risk groups listed above also need to be vaccinated. These
people include health care personnel and volunteers, and people
who live in a household with a high-risk person.
There are several common misconceptions about the flu including:
Flu is merely a nuisance. Flu is a major cause of illness and
death in the United States and leads on average to approximately
20,000 deaths and more than 110,000 hospitalizations each year.
Flu vaccine causes the flu. The licensed flu vaccine used in the
United States, which is made from inactivated or killed influenza
viruses, cannot cause influenza infection and does not cause influenza
Flu vaccine is not very effective. Scientists are very good at
designing the vaccine to meet the predicted strains of flu virus
expected each year. As long as the vaccine
matches the flu virus going around, vaccination is usually very
effective. Studies of healthy young adults have shown flu vaccine
to be 70 percent to 90 percent effective in preventing illness.
In older people and people with chronic disease, the percentage
is lower. However, the elderly and chronically ill need the vaccine
the most, because the vaccine dramatically reduces death rate
and hospitalizations from complications of influenza in these
Soon, you will be able to check our interactive flu map of the
United States to see how conditions are shaping up in your state,
or in a state you'll be visiting. Be aware that the state-by-state
influenza data, supplied by the CDC, is delayed by approximately
The annual flu epidemic is expected to peak in February or March.
After that, the number of cases should dwindle to practically
nothing by the early summer.
Check out our interactive flu map
Fighting The Flu
What Is Influenza?