It’s upon us once again: the dreaded flu season. Each year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) convene to determine which strains of the virus will be included in the vaccine — this year’s vaccine composition was determined back in February 2010.
This year, the dreaded H1N1 virus is likely to rear its ugly head, but perhaps at a less alarming rate than we experienced last year. The good news: This year, an H1N1 strain is included as one of the three strains in the 2010-2011 flu vaccine, which should drastically reduce the incidence of the virus. However, because each year’s vaccines are based on the predominant strains of the flu that spread the previous year, it’s impossible to tell whether a new strain could develop that we’re not prepared for.
The decision regarding the composition of each year’s vaccine is not one that’s taken lightly. According to the CDC, there are 130 national centers in 101 countries that conduct year-round surveillance of influenza outbreaks and study trends to determine how well a previous year’s vaccine protected from new strains, how quickly a strain can spread, and its relative impact on mortality.
The severity of any given flu season depends on a number of factors, including what viruses are spreading and whether or not the year’s vaccine offers protection against them. The H1N1 outbreak we saw last season was the first pandemic in more than 40 years, although flu virus strains are constantly changing and new ones emerging.
The CDC strongly recommends that all seniors (age 65 and over) receive a seasonal flu shot, because they’re at greater risk for developing serious complications than other age groups. The organization is encouraging seniors over the age of 65 to opt for the Fluzone High-Dose influenza vaccine, developed by Sanofi-Pasteur specifically for this demographic. The injectable vaccine contains four times the typical amount of antigens (which prompt the body to create antibodies). Preliminary clinical trials indicate a higher level of antibodies following vaccination with the high-dose vaccine, so experts believe that it could offer added protection to the vulnerable senior population.
For more information about the Fluzone High-Dose vaccine, visit the CDC website.
Most assisted living facilities and nursing homes arrange for residents to receive flu vaccines each year. If you or a loved one lives in the community and wish to find a public flu clinic near you, visit the Flu Vaccine Finder.
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