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The Flu and the Flu Vaccine

Written by Barbara Loe-Fischer   
Tuesday, 07 October 2008 12:59
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What is the flu?

Influenza is a respiratory infection that produces fever, chills, sore throat, muscle aches, and cough that lasts a week or more. The flu can be

deadly for the elderly and those with compromised immune systems or who are suffering from diabetes, kidney dysfunction and heart disease. Each year about 20,000 Americans, mostly in these high risk groups, reportedly die from flu complications such as pneumonia.

What is the flu vaccine?

The flu vaccine is prepared from the fluids of chick embryos inoculated with a specific type(s) of influenza virus. The strains of flu virus in the vaccine are inactivated with formaldehyde and preserved with Thimerosal, which is a mercury derivative. Every year, federal health agency officials try to guess which three flu strains are most likely to be prevalent in the U.S. the following year to determine which strains will be included in next year's flu vaccine. If they guess right, the vaccine is thought to be 70 to 80 percent effective in temporarily preventing the flu of the season in healthy persons less than 65 years old. For those over 65 years old, the efficacy rate drops to 30 to 40% but the vaccine is thought to be 50 to 60% effective in preventing hospitalization and pneumonia and 80% effective in preventing death from the flu.

However, sometimes health officials do not correctly predict which flu strains will be most prevalent and the vaccine's effectiveness is much lower for that year.

Does the flu vaccine protect against all throat, respiratory, gastrointestinal and ear infections?

The flu vaccine only protects against the three specific viral strains which are included in any given year's flu vaccine. Throat, respiratory, gastrointestinal and ear infections caused by bacteria or other kinds of viruses are not prevented by getting an annual flu shot. Vaccination against the flu does not protect against SARS or the complications of SARS. The World Health Organization is urging a worldwide flu vaccination campaign in the belief that high vaccination coverage can decrease the possibility of misdiagnosing flu as SARS and help in the early identification of a SARS outbreak. The CDC however is not recommending the flu vaccine for this purpose since the flu vaccine is not 100 percent effective and the suggested benefits in regards to SARS cannot be reliable.