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Don't let your guard down, even if you got the flu shot

New Orleans, La. -- Just about everybody knows someone pummeled by the flu virus. And health officials say, even if you have been vaccinated, do not let your guard down this flu season.

"The only thing we know about the flu is that it's going to be unpredictable," said Dr. Frank Welch, medical director of Louisiana's Immunization Program.

And while the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend most people get the flu vaccination, getting it does not make you "flu-proof."

"Yes, you should still take precautions because the flu vaccine, like most vaccines, is not 100-percent effective.  And actually it's less effective than some of the better known vaccines like the mumps and rubella and those kinds of vaccines.  It's about 60, 65-percent effective," said Dr. David Mushatt, an associate professor of clinical medicine at Tulane's School of Medicine and chief of the Section of Infectious Diseases.

At the state level, Dr. Welch said some people who get the flu vaccination are fortunate enough to get 100-percent protection, but he agrees the vaccine does not guarantee you will not get some strain of the flu.

"In any given year there's usually four or five, even sometimes six strains of the flu going around.  The predominant ones though, there's an 'A', which is the one that's mostly going around," stated Dr. Welch. 

The other strains can make people sick as well.  "We do see spot uptakes of one or two that is not in the vaccine.  In future years, believe it or not, there's going to be four strains of flu in the vaccine," continued Dr. Welch.

"There have been reports around the country of some strains that are not in the vaccine and therefore people can get sick with that," said Dr. Mushatt.

"You may, or may not get a strain that's not in the flu [vaccine], but it's not going to be very common at all," said Welch.

Flu experts said the virus usually originates in Asia and then travels around the world.  "There's a lot of people living in the Far East and Asia who live out in rural where they have lots of livestock, things like pigs.  And that's where the virus kind of brews, and that's where we get re-assortment and re-combination," said Mushatt.

State health officials said there is always a challenge when it comes to tailoring a new vaccine for the flu because the virus is always mutating.  "As it passes from person to person, that's why we have to get a flu shot every single year," continued Dr. Welch.

"The virus drifts, it's got mutations and then what happens is it works its way around the world," Dr. Mushatt stated.

The ever-changing nature of the flu notwithstanding, health care professionals say it is better to get an injection of the current vaccine than not.

"Young children, young, young adults, it tends to work really well.  And then people who are a little bit sick or have other conditions, they don't work quite as well.  But again, it's the best protection we have," continued Dr. Welch.

Dr. Mushatt said coughing etiquette is always in order, whether you think you have the flu or not.  "You should cough into your sleeve or into your arm... don't cough out into the public," he said.

Because the flu is a virus, it spreads through coughs, the air, by touching infected surfaces such as counters and door knobs and by shaking hands, health care experts said.

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