Hep B Blog

Cold and Flu Season Is Here. If You Live with Hepatitis B, You Need a Flu Shot. Now.

 Image courtesy of Sura Nualpradid at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Sura Nualpradid at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Flu season is here and if you or a family member lives with chronic hepatitis B, it’s time to get a flu shot as soon as possible!

Why? According to an article in the November 2015 issue of the medical journal Vaccine, chronic hepatitis B patients who get a flu shot have a lower rate of flu-related hospitalizations than patients who skip the annual flu vaccine.

According to the study that followed more than 8,800 hepatitis B patients over nine years:

  • The hospitalization rate for those who got a flu shot was 16.9 per 100 person years
  • The rate for those who skipped the vaccine was higher, 24.02 per 100 years.
  • Getting the annual shot also lowed hepatitis B patients’ risk of pneumonia, admission into hospital intensive care units, and death.

In the United States, flu season peaks from December through February, and can linger until May. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the annual flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age and older.

Unlike the hepatitis B vaccine that lasts a lifetime, the influenza immunization generally lasts only one season. When people with healthy immune systems are vaccinated, their bodies produce influenza antibodies that protect them throughout flu season, even if their influenza antibody levels decline over time. Older people or those with weakened immune systems may not generate the same amount of antibodies following vaccination, and their antibody levels may drop more quickly.

Don’t let last year’s powerful flu season dissuade you from getting a flu shot this season. Researchers do their best to predict which flu strain will gallop across the hemisphere and strike us during winter. Despite their research and best efforts, their accuracy varies from year to year. Even when the flu virus unexpectedly mutates and throws them a curve ball and we get the flu, experts say our symptoms may have been even worse if we hadn’t been immunized.

How do their predictions look for this flu season?

It’s impossible to predict exactly which viruses will circulate or if the vaccine is a good match. Flu viruses change constantly (called drift) from season to season and can even mutate during a single flu season. However, the most recent CDC analysis claims the current vaccine formulation should do the job.

In addition to getting a flu shot, you can practice common-sense prevention such as avoiding sick people and washing your hands to reduce the spread of germs. If you are sick with flu, stay home from work or school.

Antivirals used to fight the flu

While we all know antiviral drugs are effective against the hepatitis B virus, researchers have also developed antivirals that can help us fight the flu if we do get it. People at high risk of serious flu complications (such as children younger than 2 years, adults 65 and older, pregnant women, and people with chronic hepatitis B) and people who simply get very sick with the flu should get one of three available flu antiviral drugs–oseltamivir, zanamivir, or peramivir.

According to CDC, prompt treatment with a flu antiviral can mean the difference between having a mild case versus a very serious one that can land you in the hospital.

Treatment with antivirals works best when begun within 48 hours of getting sick, but can still help if administered later during your illness. Antivirals are effective in all age- and risk groups. Studies show some doctors do not prescribe antiviral drugs to people at high risk of complications from the flu, so be assertive and ask your doctor for them if you have the flu!

Remember, Dec. 6-12 is National Influenza Vaccination Week. Make sure you, your family and friends are protected against the flu! To find out where to go to get a flu shot, visit the CDC’s flu vaccine finder.

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