Don’t Let the Flu Get You
by Dr. Lainna Callentine
What travels 6-8 meters at speeds of 50-100 mph? What can suspend itself in the air for up to 10 minutes? What has 3,000-100,000 of its little fellas hanging out in droplets of mucus? It’s a bird. It’s a plane. Could this be the next Marvel superhero? No, it’s a virus.
Viruses are microscopic parasites that can inhabit and cause great havoc to the unfortunate human host. The influenza virus, otherwise known as the flu, is one of those menaces. Believe it or not, a virus does not completely fit the definition of what is a living organism. They contain key components needed for life but need the machinery of a host cell to replicate itself. The flu virus is very contagious and has great affinity for the cells of the respiratory tract. There are four types of flu viruses: A, B, C and D. During the peak winter flu season, influenza A and B are the prime suspects. There are many different subtypes (based on the two proteins found on the outer surface of a virus) and many strains.
According to the Centers of Disease Control (CDC) in the 2016-2017 flu season there were an estimated 5.3 million influenza illnesses, 2.6 million influenza associated medical visits and 85,000 influenza associated hospitalizations. The flu is most dangerous to the very young, elderly, people with chronic medical conditions (asthma, diabetes, or heart disease), pregnant women and the immunocompromised. Ravished by a virus, the weaken body is also susceptible to opportunistic bacterial infections which move in causing secondary infections like pneumonia and sinus infections. Serious complications sparked by the flu may include brain or heart inflammation, muscle breakdown that could cause many systems in the body to shut down. In extreme cases, the flu can be deadly.
The respiratory tract including the passageways of the nose, throat and lungs are invaded by the flu virus. The body kicks into high alert, sounding the alarm to trigger the immune responses to fight the invader. The body puts up a good fight by coughing, sneezing, nasal discharge and mounting a fever. Sore throat, muscle, headaches, fatigue and body aches are part of the course. These critters can be generously shared in the respiratory droplets that escapes from an infected person when they talk, cough or sneeze. A sneeze can shoot droplets of disease up to 200 feet away! These droplets are inhaled by a bystander or picked up by touching a surface like a keyboard, grocery cart or tabletop. A person can pass the flu to another person 3 to 4 days prior to developing symptoms. Once you have been exposed to the flu virus, it typically takes 1 to 4 days until you begin to feel sick.
The winter months are a great time to get the flu. As we hunker down indoors, our contact with people becomes more frequent and intimate. The flu season typically runs from October to February. Illnesses reach their peak between December and February.
What is one to do to protect himself? The battle against the influenza virus can be done on two fronts: first, arm yourself in combat with a flu vaccine and second, take physical actions to protect yourself and others. One of the most effective ways of preventing the flu is get a flu vaccine. Hold on. We have all heard someone say, “I got the shot and still got the flu…” what gives? Let’s take a quick look at the flu vaccine: how it is made, who should get the vaccine, when you should get it, the benefits and side effects.
Viruses are constantly changing. The US flu vaccines are examined and updated yearly in accord to the circulating flu viruses in the environment. Some years the flu vaccine is more effective than other years. Viruses have the uncanny ability to make small genetic changes. These changes during the flu season may make the vaccine less effective. Vaccines are grown and harvested in cell cultures. Flu vaccines can only protect against 3 or 4 influenza viruses (A and B). It is produced in a nasal spray (weaken live attenuated virus), injection with a needle (inactivated virus) and jet injection (uses high pressure narrow jet of vaccine fluid pierces the skin instead of a needle). The route of the vaccine depends on the age and health status of the recipient. Flu vaccines are recommended for people 6 months or older. It is highly encouraged for persons with chronic illnesses, those at high risk of complications from the flu and pregnant women.
Vaccines are a way to protect against the virus should it enter the body. The flu vaccine causes the body to manufacture antibodies against it. It takes two weeks after receiving the vaccine to have adequate volume of antibodies to provide protection. For best results, it is recommended to obtain the vaccine by the end of October, prior to the peak of the flu season. Yearly dosing of the flu vaccine is given because the immune response declines over the course of the year. Also, the flu virus is constantly changing so new vaccines are formulated to combat new strains.
The vaccine can protect you from getting the flu and reduce severity of symptoms and complications. It can protect a woman during her pregnancy as well as the unborn baby. The antibodies that the mother makes crosses the placental barrier to protect the baby. It also protects the baby in the first few months after birth. It has also shown to decrease the severity of illness if the person were to contract the flu with another strain of the virus. After receiving the vaccine, some may experience mild and short-lasting symptoms like soreness at the injection site, low grade fever, mild upper respiratory tract symptoms.
Another approach is to keep the virus from entering the body in the first place. One of the best defenses from the flu are to wash your hands with soap and water, keeping away from people who are sick, covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing with the area of your arm at the elbow or with a Kleenex and cleaning and disinfecting surfaces. If you do become sick, make sure you remain home from work or school to prevent exposing others to your illness.
Lastly, it is possible to get the flu even when you have been vaccinated. This can happen mainly due to three reasons. You may have been exposed to the flu prior to obtaining the vaccine. (Remember it takes 2 weeks for your body to mount an effective immune response after the vaccine.) You could contract a flu virus that is not part of the vaccine formulation. Or you can unfortunately contract the flu because you developed less immunity after the vaccine which is not effective to wane off the illness. The season will soon be upon use. The flu can make you blue. Be on guard and don’t let the flu get you!
(Disclaimer: As a pediatrician, I am fully aware that there are some who are anti-vaccines and implement homeopathic and other measures to protect and treat themselves. They have their right to consciousness. Our choices not only affect ourselves but can also affect others. Whatever side of the debate you take regarding vaccines, be informed. As with any medical information, it is important to discuss with your doctor.)
Germy Activity for Kids
Small children have difficulty conceptualizing the idea of a germ. To help encourage good hand washing and how germs spread, a great experiment is to simulate the concept of germs using glitter.
- Hand Lotion
- Fine Glitter
- Paper Towels
- Soap and Water
- Garbage Can
- Have your little one rub lotion on the top and bottom of his hands.
- Placing your child’s hands over the garbage can, sprinkle the fine glitter over the palms of his hands. The glitter simulates the germs that may be on one’s hands after a sneeze or cough.
- Now have the child touch your hand. What does the child observe?
- Have the child try to wipe the glitter off with a paper towel. Was this successful?
- Have the child run water quickly over their hands. Observe what happens.
- Lastly, have the child wash their hands with soap and water. What is the difference?
Dr. Lainna Callentine is an author, speaker, missionary pediatrician, founder of Sciexperience, homeschool mother, and teacher who has taught many levels. She holds a master’s in education and received her B.A. from Northwestern University where she studied in the School of Education majoring in Human Development and Social Policy. She completed her M.D. and residency training in pediatrics and is a member of Focus on The Family’s Physician Resource Council. The author of an exciting book series and hands-on curriculum for children showcasing the human body called “God’s Wondrous Machine”. Follow Dr. Callentine at www.sciexperience.com and https://www.facebook.com/Sciexperience/.
We’d like to hear from you. Please share your comments below or like us on your Facebook page. Be sure to check back each month for more articles and products available at your local Christian bookstore.