Avoiding the Flu

Posted by Admin on December 29, 2010
With Flu season underway, it's time to look at what these viruses are and what makes them tick. The flu virus is a nasty, yet simple organism composed of 11 genes compared to the 20,000 found in humans. What makes the flu so potentially dangerous is that it's prone to mutations, which are slight changes in its genetic code, when it replicates. Though most mutations do not amount to anything, some can lead to new versions of the flu that are more contagious or lead to more serious symptoms and complications.

Professor of pathology at UT Southwestern Medical Center, said a virus’ ability to mutate partly explains why the seasonal flu vaccine is ineffective against the H1N1 or “swine flu” strain. He says, “H1N1 is very different than the normal seasonal flu, especially in parts of the virus normally recognized by our protective immune system. H1N1 has not mutated in such a way as to make people sicker, but it’s important to follow the public health guidelines for who should get vaccinated as the H1N1 vaccine becomes more widely available.”

So what the underlying medical conditions that put people at greater risk of flu complications? Asthma, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary lung disease, pregnancy, diabetes and other immune suppressing illnesses are considered, “underlying medical conditions” that may contribute to H1N1 becoming fatal.

Dr. Kahn recommends that anyone with an underlying medical condition get both H1N1 and seasonal flu vaccines. He states, “People with other health problems such as asthma or cancer are simply more vulnerable. Why otherwise healthy people get very ill remains unclear, but it could be that some people have a genetic susceptibility to the virus.”

Are vaccines needed even if you’re well beyond puberty? Infectious Disease Specialist, Dr. Doug Hardy, says that, “People need to be more aware of the value of adult vaccines.” He says adult vaccinations are underutilized because many adults incorrectly assume that the vaccines they received as children will last a lifetime. Dr. Hardy advises that patients should discuss a vaccination schedule with their doctor and determine whether they should be immunized.

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