The cat is out of the bag about the flu shot. As you have probably seen, this year the effectiveness of the flu shot is not quite up to par because of a mutated flu strain that seems to be circulating. That’s not to say, however, that the flu shot is worthless!
The CDC recently released a report stating that getting vaccinated during the 2014-15 flu season makes you only 23% less likely to contract the flu. In recent years, we’ve seen a range from 10% to 60% when it comes to flu shot effectiveness. These numbers are found from the number of medical visits due to the flu, so if you stayed home and toughed it out, you weren’t counted!
So why is this year on the low end of the spectrum? The flu virus regularly mutates, or undergoes genetic changes. When creating the vaccine, the CDC looks into past trends and predicts the most likely strain of flu to spread that year. This year, about 70% of the H3N2 flu strains differ from what was included in the vaccine because the H3N2 strain mutated slightly after the shot was created. The mutated H3N2 is the primary strain in circulation.
It’s important to note, however, that we are only about halfway through flu season. This evidence is clearly based on preliminary findings, and it could change before we make it through the rest of flu season. The virus could undergo other mutations, and show us some different aspects of the vaccine's effectiveness.
And how do you stay healthy this flu season? Well, you have a few options to avoid contracting the flu, and to stop the transmission and halt an office epidemic!
Seek early treatment. Try to get to a doctor as soon as you notice any flu-like symptoms. It’s important to start taking antivirals very quickly after your symptoms present, otherwise the medicine won’t help much. For this reason, the CDC is asking doctors to prescribe antivirals to patients with symptoms even before receiving positive test results. This is especially true in high-risk individuals, including:
- Young children
- Pregnant women
- Elderly adults
- People with chronic diseases, such as asthma
If you start to notice flu-like symptoms, seek treatment right away, and don’t be surprised if your doctor doesn’t wait for your test results before getting you on medication. If you notice an employee who seems a bit under the weather, encourage them to get out of the office and head to the doctor as soon as possible.
Use common sense. Obviously common sense should be applied in almost all areas of life. Your health is no different. With an elevated number of flu cases circulating, it’s especially important to wash your hands, cover your mouth when you cough and stay home if you suspect you’re sick. These general health practices can improve your overall hygiene, and the ideas aren’t exactly new or groundbreaking.
Try to keep your personal hygiene in the front of your mind this flu season, and reinforce this idea to your employees. If someone comes to work feeling sick, encourage them to go back home! It might be helpful to consider implementing a “work from home” policy this flu season as well.
Get vaccinated. I know, I know…you’ve heard the vaccine isn’t as effective as usual. That doesn’t mean it won’t help, though! The flu shot can protect you and your employees from a lot of the less common, and sometimes more severe, strains of the flu.
Not only will the vaccine help you to avoid some flu strains all together, it can also dull the symptoms of strains that have mutated. People who’ve been vaccinated, and still contract the mutated flu strain usually present with less severe symptoms, and have fewer complications and hospitalizations from the virus.
Keep this in mind when considering the health of your employees and your corporate flu shots. Inevitably, someone in your office will get the flu. The vaccine can have them back to work much more quickly—and much more productively—than if they’d forgone their flu shot this year.
The CDC recommends a flu shot for everyone over 6 months of age, and it’s not too late to get it! We are well into flu season, but we do have to make it through the second half. While the preliminary studies of this year’s vaccine show a bit lower effectiveness than usual, it’s still incredibly important to be prepared. Get vaccinated, use common sense and seek treatment early this flu season.
How has your company handled flu season so far?