As flu vaccines target more strains, health experts recommend getting the shot

WASHINGTON — Flu strains vary from year to year and some are bound to hit people harder than others. So vaccines targeting more strains are becoming the norm.

“The quadrivalent vaccine came out in 2012 and it’s going to probably be taking over the market,” said Kelly Reed, a physician assistant and pharmacist at Adventist HealthCare Urgent Care. “It looks like manufacturers are phasing out the trivalent vaccine.”

Trivalent vaccines target two A strains and one B strain of the flu. Quadrivalent vaccines target two A and B strains. The severity of the flu season will depend on which flu strain is most dominant.

“A strains are generally the ones that cause the most severe cases,” Reed said. “Two years ago, I saw more cases of the A strain. So, we were seeing a lot sicker patients.”

B strains of the flu appeared to dominate last year’s season in the D.C. area.

“We saw much milder symptoms than the year before,” Reed said.

Flu symptoms can make you feel miserable for a week or more, but Reed warned that prescribed antiviral medications aren’t magic bullets. “All it will do is decrease the number of days that you’re going to be sick, by one to two days,” Reed said.

Reed added that the most common side effects of antivirals — nausea, vomiting and diarrhea — cause many people to stop taking them after just a few doses.

The flu causes 200,000 hospitalizations a year on average and kills about 35,000 people, so Reed recommended getting vaccinated and doing everything you can to avoid catching or spreading it.

Her recommendations included:

  • If you’re sick, don’t go to work or send sick kids to school.
  • Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Cough and sneeze into your sleeve.
  • Wash hands well and frequently.

“Realize that you can pick up this virus on any surface,” Reed cautioned. “Hand washing is very, very important.”

Once vaccinated, it takes a few weeks to develop antibodies against the flu, so health experts recommend getting the flu shot now. With rare exception, getting the flu vaccine is recommended for everyone six months and older.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has all you need to know about the flu on its website.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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