According to legend, many years ago in England, a milkmaid with a beautiful, creamy complexion told a 13-year-old boy that she would never get pock marks on her face from Smallpox because she had had the Cowpox. According to her, people who had the Cowpox never got the deadly and disfiguring Smallpox. That boy was Edward Jenner who went on to develop the world’s first universally accepted vaccine in 1796. He had started by scraping pus from open sores of people with Cowpox and scratching it into the skin of healthy people. The Cowpox germ was related to the Smallpox germ. The body developed immunity to one, and it worked against the other as well.
We have gotten a lot more sanitary. And we also vaccinate against many more germs.
Today there are 10 different types of influenza (flu) vaccine available including a nasal spray. Most flu vaccines are single injections that give various levels of protection against influenza Types A and B. The nasal spray (Flu-Mist) is the only one with a live virus. Vaccination for seasonal influenza A and B starts in late October and continues for months. Influenza A virus is the main cause of flu illness in older adults. Influenza B is more likely to infect children.
The vaccine changes every year because the virus (germ) is constantly evolving and is a bit different every year.
Influenza usually starts suddenly with fever, cough (typically dry), headache and body aches. The cough may be severe and last as long as two weeks. Most people recover from the flu within a week without medical attention, although they may be pretty sick in the meantime.
Complications of the flu such as pneumonia and even death can occur. People most at risk of complications include infants, pregnant women and people with chronic medical conditions. The vast majority of severe complications occur in people over age 65 with underlying medical conditions.
If someone in your family gets the flu, they should stay away from people at risk of complications for two weeks. After two weeks, they should be immune and no longer contagious.
If you have had COVID, it is OK to get the flu shot as long as you are not feeling ill.
This year, in other parts of the world where it has already started, flu activity is very low, probably because of precautions being taken for COVID.
(Photo: Cynthia’s husband, John, getting his annual flu shot)