Is the flu shot really working?

A closer look at the modern day virus and its origins

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Carly Phares, Head Editor

It seems as if every day someone else comes down with the flu. Is this a case of mass hysteria, or is the flu really plaguing our society more and more each year?

Influenza, or the flu, is a seasonal, highly contagious, viral infection usually identified by symptoms such as sudden fever, cough, congestion and fatigue. The flu season typically lasts from late fall to early spring. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that the influenza virus “has resulted in between 9 million – 45 million illnesses, between 140,000 – 810,000 hospitalizations and between 12,000 – 61,000 deaths annually since 2010.”

So far this season, the CDC believes that there have been at least “13 million flu illnesses, 120,000 hospitalizations and 6,600 deaths.”

This season is proving to be quite unusual compared to years prior. It is still unknown how deadly or even how long this flu season will last, but it has been especially lethal for young children and had its earliest start in 16 years

There are four types of the virus: A and B, which are responsible for seasonal flu epidemics; Type C, a rare infection that causes mild respiratory illness; and D, which primarily infects cattle.

When the flu season began, B strains dominated, something that has not happened in the U.S. in almost 30 years. Now, about halfway through the flu season, A strains are starting to pick up, increasing the odds of a double-barreled flu season. This occurrence, proven to be extremely rare by health experts, happens when two strains infect the masses back to back.

The flu itself is not often life-threatening, but it can progress into conditions such as pneumonia, or worsen other chronic issues which can often result in death. Coming down with the flu could also cause someone with asthma, diabetes, an autoimmune disorder, or cancer, to have worsening conditions. 

Adults over 65 are also more susceptible to developing complications from the flu due to decreasing strength in their immune system.

Influenza is a constantly evolving virus; this is why it causes so many deaths each year without decline. According to the CDC, “the composition of U.S. flu vaccines is reviewed annually and updated as needed to match circulating flu viruses.” Vaccines protect against the few viruses that researchers suggest will be most common during that season.

The vaccine effectiveness is in the 40-60 percent range. There are three different types of flu vaccines approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA): egg-based, which is most common, cell-based, and the recombinant flu vaccine. All vaccines are made by private manufacturers. 

Laboratories are provided with candidate vaccine viruses (CVVs) based on these recommendations, and these are then injected into a fertilized hen egg, incubated for several days, and then the fluid is harvested and the virus antigen is purified. 

These are then distributed to the masses, hoping to diminish the cases of the flu in that particular season.