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The Flu Shot and Other Points of Interest

Updated on July 10, 2016

There is a new game in town.

Do you play the lottery? It is exciting to think of the possibilities of having “wealth beyond your dreams of avarice!” You have the ticket in your hand and all the way up to the time the winning numbers are posted you can hold onto the hope that come Monday morning you can call and say I will not be into work today, thank you. Too much fun to play that ‘what if’ game isn’t’ it!

Then I have exciting news for you.

All you have to do is walk past the signs saying 'it is here' 'we have it available immediately' and the one announcing 'it is time'!

Lose this game and you continue the hale and hearty state of health you now enjoy.

But win this game and oh you lucky thing!

When you win you will receive up to three different kinds of influenza virus!

That is correct, one of three types of the A, B or C Influenza Virus!

Details of the Influenza Virus

image of flu virus with description of each part
image of flu virus with description of each part | Source

Let's look at the different types.

There are three types of the RNA virus that cause the flu. These three types are the influenza viruses A, B and C.

Type A contains many different types of influenza. One that is well known is Type A, Avian or Bird Flu. Usually the avian or bird flu does not infect humans but it has occasionally caused illnesses in humans. There is one strain of the H5N1 avian flu that has infected over 650 different people since 2003. Direct contact with infected livestock is thought to be the cause of transmission from birds to humans for this particular virus; however with vaccination of livestock this has decreased the number of cases for this subtype of the flu virus.

Type B contains the same symptoms as type A to a lesser degree and does not cause a pandemic. It has been suggested this may be because only humans and seals are the hosts for type B. However, type B flu virus can still be very dangerous and the CDC states that Type B affects mostly children.

Type C does not cause epidemics or pandemics and the symptoms are very mild. Many people do not realize they even have Type C Influenza as it may seem like a very mild cold.

Those different types can then be divided into different strains but only type A is divided into different subtypes. Many animals, including birds, swine, whales and seals can be infected with the influenza virus but only birds have every subtype of flu.

The letters and numbers of the name of the virus give clues as to their differences. For instance, H1N1 is the swine flu. In 2009 this virus caused a pandemic. The swine flu is now just another influenza virus that sickens people around the world every year.

Type A is the one that you probably recognize on commercials in the winter advertising cough and cold and flu remedies. The poor guy feeling too big for his house and the dad thinking about calling in sick to his 5 year old make us smile when we first see them on TV but the reality is that having the flu is not a smiling matter. Signs and symptoms of influenza include body aches, chills and elevated temperature, headache, fatigue, sore throat, coughing that may be loose or dry, and a stuffy or runny nose.

Up to 20% of the population will have this type of flu every year. Between 3000 and 49,000 people will die every year as a result of the RNA influenza virus.

Type A is the most common and can cause not only an epidemic but a pandemic. The H1N1 is an example of a virus that caused a pandemic in 2009 and it was the first influenza pandemic in 40 years. The difference between a pandemic and an epidemic is that an epidemic is contained in one area but the number of persons infected is higher than expected and a pandemic is worldwide.

Two examples of a flu epidemic in history is the plague of Athens in 429 BC and the Zika Virus in the Americas in 2015. Epidemics of influenza, measles, typhus, cholera, smallpox, plague, malaria yellow fever, HIV and SARS have continued to surface century after century.

An interesting side note is that both epidemics and pandemics can be caused by either a virus or bacteria. The Bubonic Plague is a pandemic caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis whereas the H1N1 2009 pandemic was caused by the RNA influenza virus.

Why are there letters and numbers in the names of the viruses?

You have heard of H1N1 and H5N1 and know those are name of two different types of flu, bird (H5N1) and swine (H1N1); but do you know what they stand for?

The letter H in the name of the virus refers to hemagglutinin (HA) or haemagglutinin. In the image of the flu virus the HA are the blue spikes on the surface of the virus. Glycogluttin proteins are found on the surface of the flu virus itself. The ‘gluttin’ part of the word means to clump or bind together. There are 18 different kinds of hemagglutinin (HA) antigens so you will see a capital letter ‘H’ followed by a number. That will tell you precisely the kind of HA antigen to which it is referring. The letter ‘N’ is the second type of antigen and it refers to a viral neuraminidase (NA) also found on the surface of the influenza virus. In the image of the flu virus those spikes are pink in colour. The NA is an enzyme that separates the HA protein on the surface of the virus.

However, only H1 through H3 are associated with human influenza.

You may be scratching your head and saying but wait I thought you said H5N1 was bird flu? Don’t humans get that as well? You are correct, starting in 2004 it was found that humans can indeed be infected with this subtype. So far it is at a low rate of infection, but it is spreading across Asia. In 2008 there were 11 outbreaks across 5 countries however with the vaccination of farming birds it is under control at this time. There are 9 different subtypes of H5N1. The CDC discusses a new mixed virus found in 2015 in the United States that is affecting poultry but so far there have not been any human cases reported.

This is a perfect example of how a virus can mutate and spread. H5N1 was known to cause the flu in wild birds but the virus made a jump from animals to humans. The CDC has vaccines available to protect us from H5N1 if a pandemic occurs.

Do you choose to get the flu vaccine every year?

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How Do Virus’ Make this Jump?

This method of change is known as antigenic shift and antigenic drift.Type A viruses have both drift and shift happen continuously but with type B viruses only have antigenic drift occur.

Viruses change all the time, they are very adaptable!

Usually, the change to the virus is imperceptible and that is known as antigenic drift. The changes are slow and the host, human or animal, adapts, build antibodies and immunity. However, the virus is so smart that as the drift continues, your antibodies wear out and you can get sick again with the same virus! Smart little buggies indeed the influenza virus! That makes a good reason to continue getting a vaccination year after year even if the CDC recommends the same strains the next year.

Antigenic shift happens so fast that humans do not have immunity, so what used to infect only animals now infects humans and the results can be disastrous. It would be like finding out your expiration date was coming up much sooner than you thought! When a shift occurs you can think to yourself well there was no hope for it, I could not have protected myself, so no matter what; I was bound to get sick.

You may think to yourself then why bother getting a flu shot every year? I can take my chances and let my body build antibodies and then if the unthinkable occurs and there is an epidemic or pandemic won’t I still be as protected as people who had been getting the shot every year?

Maybe, that is something we may not know for sure until after the fact. One thing you can count on though is that while you are allowing your body to build antibodies you may be sick every winter whereas people who took the vaccination are much less likely to get sick at all and if they do they probably will not as sick as they would if they had not gotten the shot. Do you want to survive the cause? Or do you want to survive the effect?


How many strains and types are in the yearly flu vaccination?

Twice a year the World Health Organization (WHO) reviews information about viruses all over the world and recommends changes if any are needed. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) continuously reviews researches and tests for the most optimum vaccine year after year. They look at how well the vaccine protected persons in the past year, the flu viruses making people sick at this time and how fast the virus is spreading to determine the best strains to use for the next flu season. Usually there are two kinds of Influenza A and one or two type B in the vaccine. It takes at least 6 months to grow the vaccination in eggs so that usually starts in January in order for there to be enough vaccinations for delivery in September and the H3N1 virus does not grow as well in eggs which can slow production as well.

How should I get the flu vaccine?

The most common way to receive the flu vaccination is by an injection, just a small amount of 0.5ml delivered intramuscularly in your upper arm. However, there is also a live virus, administered as a nasal spray Persons with a poor immune system, persons who take care of immune suppressed persons, person with chronic diseases are not recommended to get this type of flu vaccine. For the flu season of 2016-2017 the CDC has recommended that the nasal spray not be released so for this coming flu season only the injection will be available.

How good is the vaccine?

It has been shown that the flu vaccine will decrease your chances of getting the flu by 60%. In 2012 a study showed that admission to a hospital by persons over age 50 was reduced by 77%. Another study done between 2010-2012 proved that admission to pediatric intensive care was reduced 74% during the flu season.

Who should receive the flu vaccine?

Everyone can benefit from the antibodies that protect them from the influenza virus and it would be wonderful to know that everyone around you has chosen to protect themselves but some people are more at risk of contracting the virus in the first place so it would be smart for them to make sure they receive the flu shot. Healthcare workers from physicians to maintenance crew need to protect themselves so they will be able to take care of others. Of note however is the fact that on the CDC site it just says that everyone should get a flu shot!

Will this be your first year to get the flu shot?

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At the end of the day what works?

It does no good to worry about getting sick, or fear that a pandemic may or may not occur but what does help is knowing that you have done everything in your power to prevent yourself from getting sick!

Unless of course, you like the feeling of being sick?

And of course...

What is written here does not now nor does it ever take the place of your physician’s advice and services of your physician.

Consult your physician every time for all things medically related and of course, if you feel you have any of the signs or symptoms of what has been written in this hub, please contact your physician for a consultation as soon as possible


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    • RNMSN profile image

      Barbara Bethard 21 months ago from Tucson, Az

      Thank you teaches12345! I appreciate the comment. I had a good time writing it and am glad you found it useful.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 21 months ago

      This was well researched and written. I found it interesting. I now know how and why they name these bugs.