If you watched the news this week then you know the flu is a hot topic. In Boston Mayor Menino has declared a public health emergency. Yesterday morning on the Today show, all 4 hosts received flu shots on the air. And this weekend in Boston, there will be 21 free flu shot clinics in which all residents over 6 months of age are strongly encouraged to take part in.
Now, I don’t know about you, but the more someone pushes me to do something, the more likely I am not to do it. Or, at the very least, the more skeptical I will become about WHY it seems so necessary. I mean, if so many are getting sick with the flu, is it because they are unvaccinated, or is the flu shot not offering the level of protection it advertises?
Making the Flu Shot
Every year in North America the flu season begins on October 1st. On that date doctors’s offices and other health care facilities begin to offer the annual flu vaccines to their patients. See, unlike other vaccines that are effective in your body for many years (think the tetanus vaccine – its good for a decade!) the flu vaccine is only good for one year. Why, you ask? Because each year the flu virus that makes people sick is a little different from the year before. In that way its a lot like the common cold. You may feel, every time you get a cold, that it is the same cold you’ve had a million times, but in reality it is a new and unique virus to your immune system.
So, if the flu virus is a little different every year, how do scientists and doctors know which virus to put into the vaccine? Vaccines take time to be made…so, how to they know which flu virus to make into a vaccine in time to have flu shots ready for the start of October? Lastly, how effective is the flu vaccine?
Production of the annual flu vaccine begins in January/February of the year the flu vaccine is administered (the 2013/2014 flu vaccine is already in production). Based on the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO), the US FDA determines which 2 virus strains will be a part of the annual US vaccine. Once the strains have been identified, it will take manufacturers approximately 6 months to grow the virus in either chicken eggs or chicken kidney cells, then turn the grown viruses into vaccines.
When it comes to effectiveness, the flu vaccine is only as good as it is close to the actual virus in circulation making people sick. If the vaccine is exact, protection is excellent, if it isn’t, protection is spotty at best. In addition, how your immune system responds to the flu vaccine will determine the level of protection any vaccine can offer.
In light of what has been on the news and what your friends and family may be saying, you are now faced with a choice. Should you get the flu shot?
Let’s say you’ve made your decision…
You’ve decided in favor of getting a flu shot. We already know that simply receiving the flu shot is not enough to offer the level of protection we expect from a vaccine. So, what can you ensure that the vaccine you’ve gotten will provide the level of protection it promises? The answer lies in a single word…SLEEP!
Simple, beautiful, delicious sleep allows your body to produce the antibodies a vaccine is designed to stimulate. As you can imagine, inadequate sleep equals inadequate antibody production. This means less than suberb protection, or in some cases, no greater protection than someone who opted not to be vaccinated.
So, is one night of good sleep enough to cover you? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Even if you got a good night sleep the night before you were vaccinated, and then went to be early the night of your vaccination, this would still not deliver the desired outcome. In order for your immune system to achieve what a vaccine promises, good sleep habits and a history of 7-8 hours of sleep per night are both necessary. And, if you regularly get less than 6 hours of shut eye per night, your likelihood of achieving full flu protection from a vaccine are even slimmer.
In addition, scientists have found that regular exercisers have an enhanced response to the flu vaccine, making it more effective.
You’ve opted to forego this year’s flu vaccine. You’re initial thought may be, “Doesn’t skipping a vaccination make me more susceptible to the flu?” The answer is a resounding NO if you know what habits can help you make the most out of your immune system. Best part is, these strategies work for all the nasty pathogens (illness causing bacteria and viruses) winter has to offer so, you’ll not only will you reduce your likelihood of coming down with the dreaded flu, but you’ll give yourself a free pass from suffering with that horrible cold everyone seems to be passing around.
Strategy 1 – Catch some ZZZZZs
Give your immune system a fighting chance by getting plenty of rest, especially when you are feeling a little run down. Regularly getting 8 hours of sleep is ideal.
Strategy 2 – Get some exercise.
Taking part in 30 min of daily exercise is the best way to ensure the cells of your immune system responsible for capturing and destroying foreign invaders, make contact with whatever could cause you to get sick. Keep it moderate though. Vigorous exercise that lasts longer than 30 minutes actually reduces immune function.
Strategy 3 – Reduce your stress.
Stress reduces immune function. Exactly what you don’t need when you are trying to fight a cold or the flu. Reducing your daily stress goes a long way in allowing your body to put energy where it needs to – keeping you from getting sick in the first place!
Strategy 4 – Avoid sugar like the plague.
Nothing slashes your immune function like sugar. Help keep your immune function optimal by reducing your white sugar and white flour consumption. And, get plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables for some much needed vitamins and minerals.