De-bugging the flu, with help from Morristown Medical Center

Dr. Joel Maslow
Dr. Joel Maslow

We know, we know. The flu is a virus, not a bug.

But that’s really all we know about the flu. So we asked an expert about this thing that’s going round. Our thanks to Dr. Joel Maslow, chief of the infectious diseases division at Morristown Medical Center, for these answers to some commonly asked questions.

Q. Is it too late to get the flu shot?

Dr. Joel Maslow:  No. It is expected that the current strains of Influenza will be circulating for another few months and the best protection, other than avoidance, is to get a flu vaccine. It takes about two weeks to generate protective antibodies so the earlier vaccination occurs, the better.

Q. What strain of flu is likely to be covered by the flu shot being offered?

Dr. Maslow: The current vaccine contains three strains. There are two Influenza A strains, H1N1, H3N2, and one influenza B strain. The H3N2 strain is the dominant flu type that is circulating in the community and the vaccine shares approximately 90 percent (or has a DNA structure that is about 90 percent identical between the vaccine and the strain that is causing infection). The H1N1 strain is the epidemic strain from a few years ago, but there are about one-tenth as many cases of this flu type this year. The influenza B strain is also an excellent match to the dominant circulating strain.

Q. Who should get the shots?

Flu virus--blown up really, really big. Image: Centers for Disease Control
Flu virus--blown up really, really big. Image: Centers for Disease Control

Dr. Maslow: Vaccination is recommended for all individuals greater than six months of age. Those with heart disease, lung disease, transplant recipients, those receiving cancer chemotherapy, and those HIV infected or with any underlying immune suppressing illness are especially recommended to be vaccinated. Those with a documented allergic reaction to eggs should consult with their physician to determine whether it is recommended to receive a vaccination. Those with a history of Guillain-Barre syndrome should not receive the flu vaccine.

Q. Who is most susceptible to getting the flu?

Dr. Maslow: Anyone is susceptible to influenza; however, those who are at greatest risk of needing hospitalization are those at the extremes of age and those with a history of lung disease, heart disease, or disorders of immunity.

Q. What other precautions can be taken to avoid the flu?

Dr. Maslow: The best precautions are to wash your hands and to have family members wash their hands. This is especially important after coughing or sneezing. Hand sanitizers will help to reduce viral infectiousness, but hand washing is still superior. Avoid standing in front of someone who is coughing or sneezing. Finally, getting vaccinated against the flu is still considered key in protection.

Q. What signs differentiate flu from a common cold?

Dr. Maslow: There are many common features between the flu and the common cold. In general, those with the common cold will have a low grade fever of 99-101 degrees, sneezing, a runny nose (rhinorrhea), coughing, muscle aches and possibly a headache. Most with the flu will complain of severe muscle and body aches, significant headache, along with cough and fever. While those with the flu can have higher fevers to 102 degrees and may even go as high as 103 degrees, fever may not be that high in many. Flu is commonly described as “the worst cold of my life.”

Read more about the flu, from the Centers for Disease Control.


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