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What Many People Don't Know About the Influenza Virus

Every year, particularly in the fall and winter months, tens of thousands of people get influenza or flu. As a consequence, there is a yearly push for people to get a flu shot. In some businesses, this isn’t an option and the shots are required. Yet, there is quite a bit that many people don’t know about the flu virus.

The flu can be so mild that it is scarcely even noticed. A lot of people who claim to never get the flu, actually do get it, but it is simply so mild that they don’t realize they have the flu. In fact, many people who think that they have a cold actually have the flu.

On the other hand, some kinds of flu hit hard and they are life-threatening. Quite a few people die every year from the flu. Some flu epidemics have killed thousands of people. On the surface it might seem like everyone should get a yearly flu shot, but it might not be true.

The Flu is divided into four groups; A, B, C, and D. Types A and B are the ones flu shots are designed to combat. Type C is normally a very mild kind of flu and it is normally not one of those the shots are designed for. Type D is animal flu and is contracted by animals like cattle. This isn’t transferrable to humans.

In each flu type, there are many strains, each of which is distinctly different from the others. Each strain also mutates over time, creating new strains of flu each year. A huge problem is that a vaccine that will help with one strain of flu, may not have any effect at all on any other strain of flu. The vaccines also take 6-8 months to produce and it does no good to get a shot after a person already has the flu. 

A flu infection itself lasts about a week to 10 days, normally. Since it isn’t possible to make an inoculant for all strains of the flu, this means that doctors must guess which two or three strains will be most likely to cause a problem 6-8 months later in the year and they create vaccines for those few strains. Frequently, they guess wrong and the inoculant does no good at all, either because it is for the wrong strain or because a totally different stain is the one the hits hardest.

It isn’t common for doctors to explain all of this and few will admit, upfront, that the shot may not help and that the person might still get some other strain of flu.

It is still a good idea for people to get the shots if they are at risk of some of the secondary infections, such as pneumonia. However, people should know that they might still get the flu, even after getting a shot. 

When my wife and daughter were in the healthcare profession, both were required to get flu shots. I had no such requirement, so I didn’t get one. Yet, they ended up with the flu at roughly the same frequency and severity that I did. There were also years when I didn’t get the flu and they did. In fact, the last time I had a flu shot, I came down with the flu within three weeks; a different strain than what the shot was for. The above explains why this happens.

At times, a strain of the flu can cause a major pandemic around the world. If doctors guessed correctly and foresaw this, flu shots can be a powerful tool to help contain the problem. If they don’t guess right, the problem strain of flu must simply run its course. 

  • Have you had a flu shot this year?

    • Yes
    • not yet, but I plan on it
    • No, and I don’t plan on it
    • I never get the flu


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Written by Rex Trulove

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