The flu vaccine may not be very effective this winter.
The dominant flu strain this year — H3N2 — has mutated, and only about half of the cases match the vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The flu shots still protect as well as they always do against some strains, including this circulating strain when it has not mutated.
Flu viruses are constantly changing and they mutate all the time — from one season to the next or they can even change within the course of the same season. This kind of gradual change is called “drifting.”
Here are some tips:
HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF
As a pediatrician, Dr. Timothy Horton has taken one sick day in 10 years of his office-based pediatric practice. On a daily basis, he is exposed to dozens of strains of colds, germs and viruses but manages to keep himself healthy through a few simple tips. (Horton has a practice in Vidalia and also works in telemedicine with MedZed (www.mymedzed.com.)
Here are some of Horton’s top tips for avoiding the dreaded cold and flu season:
It’s all about the basics. Sleep, diet and personal hygiene are the foundation of your ability to fight off diseases since changes in these affect the immune system. Life will throw unexpected curveballs that will knock these things off balance and unfortunately lead to a higher risk of getting sick.
Get enough sleep. Sleep is the body’s chance to heal and reset. It is perhaps the most important part of disease prevention, and teaching children how to sleep well and modeling good sleep behaviors might be the best gift parents can give them. Horton suggests eight hours of uninterrupted sleep each night, but statistically, that amount will work for only 85 percent of people. Children, depending on their age, will need more sleep and in different patterns such as napping during the day. Focus on these sleeping patterns and not a specific number of hours for shut-eye.
You are what you eat. Actually, your immune system is made up exclusively of what you eat. Proteins, micronutrients, amino acids, co-enzymes, vitamins and minerals all come from your diet and are the building blocks of your immune system. Arranging meals with fruits and vegetables of three different colors and changing the colors regularly will ensure that you get all the necessary vitamins and minerals needed.
Wash your hands frequently. Nothing is more protective against germs than hand washing, so wash them properly and frequently. Germs are everywhere — in the air we breathe, on the surfaces we touch and on the people we love, but we can’t survive without them. Try washing your and your child’s hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds to do the trick. (It’s the same amount of time as singing “Happy Birthday” or saying the ABCs three times.)
There are so few viruses that allow for preventative measures to be taken, so it is critical that parents take action on the ones you can. The vaccines offered by your pediatrician and local pharmacies are safe and effective. Even though recent reports have questioned the effectiveness of this year’s flu shot, getting the shot is still the best way to avoid severe symptoms, to lower contagiousness and to prevent further complications.