The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced that this year’s flu vaccine is not effective against the current flu strain. While this may be cause for alarm for some as we approach the peak of flu season, I am confident using other flu prevention tools will be more effective than the flu vaccine. The influenza vaccine is recommended annually for everyone older than six months of age, but just how effective is it?
The flu vaccine is comprised of the three or four strains of flu most likely to be seen in a given season. The flu vaccine tends to not work very well if the strains of flu in the vaccine do not match the strains of flu in the current environment. However, on the rare occasion that the matching strain are perfect, 1% of flu-vaccinated individuals still end up with an infection, compared to 4% of unvaccinated individuals. In the case of a partial strain match, 1% of individuals still end up with an infection versus 2% of unvaccinated individuals, leaving the true reduction in flu risk a mere 1%. So when the media reports that the risk of getting the flu is cut in half, technically, that’s true because the risk has dropped from 2% to 1%, but what’s really being said is the absolute risk has been reduced from 2 in 100 to 1 in 100 people.
The flu strain H3N2 appears to be circulating widely this year with enough mutation that our body will view it as an entirely new flu virus. As such, we can expect the vaccine to be largely ineffective. The good news is our bodies are well equipped to tackle new viruses if given a little support. Here are a few suggestions:
Rest is paramount with any viral infection and my top recommendation. Adequate sleep and stress reduction are vitally important to the proper functioning of our immune system and will have the most positive impact on your speedy recovery. [need some statistics for the claims] one sentence
Probiotics, taken regularly for at least 6 months, are a safe effective way to reduce fever, runny nose, cough incidence, and duration in children 3 to 5 years of age. [need some statistics for the claims]
Vitamin D3 is a powerful player in the regulation of our immune system. People with low vitamin D levels are at greater risk of getting influenza than those with healthy levels. Further, higher levels of vitamin D have been shown to potentially shorten the duration of infection. [need some statistics for the claims]
Zinc supplementation in the form of tablets, lozenges, or syrup, if given at the onset of a viral infection, has been shown to reduce the duration and severity. [need some statistics for the claims]
So the next time you catch the flu, consider supporting your body’s own innate ability to heal instead of reaching for fever suppressors and antibiotics, which would not be helpful for a virus such as influenza anyway.
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Jefferson T, Di Pietrantonj C, Rivetti A, Bawazeer GA, Al-Ansary LA, Ferroni E. (2010). Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2010 Jul 7; (7):CD001269. Doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD001269.pub4
Leyer G.J., Li S., Mubasher M.E., Reifer C., Ouwehand A.C. (2009) Probiotic Effects on Cold and Influenza-Like Symptom Incidence and Duration in Children. Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, 124(2), 172-9. doi: 10.1542/peds.2008-2666
Rao G, Rowland K. (2011). PURLs: Zinc for the common cold—not if, but when. The Journal of Family Practice. 2011 Nov;60(11):669-71.