Many infectious diseases and illnesses are caused by viruses. Viruses are tiny particles that live in cells. When a virus infects you it invades your body, one cell at a time. Once a virus attaches to a “host” cell and inserts its genetic code, it then replicates and exports more viruses out of the cell to infect other cells in the body. It spreads between humans through the air and body fluids.
A common seasonal virus is influenza, or “the flu.” Symptoms of the flu include coughing, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headaches, chills, and vomiting. Each year some of the viruses change subtly in a process called mutation, creating new flu viruses with different characteristics. Different versions of the flu virus are called “strains.” One strain of flu might infect your body differently than another. This is why health officials recommend the flu vaccine to protect against the virus.
These vaccines are an injection of a modified nontoxic form of the season’s unique flu strain. The injection will cause the immune system to remember the virus later and fight it off before it displays symptoms.
What makes vaccines effective? Vaccines are based on the concept of “herd immunity” or “community immunity.” The idea is that if a large portion of a community is vaccinated, those that are unable to be vaccinated have a lower chance of getting the illness. This is because there is less infection circulating in the community overall. In other words, the more people vaccinated, the smaller the outbreak.
In addition to vaccinations, it is important to prevent the spread of the flu by covering your coughs and sneezes, washing your hands regularly and if you do get sick—staying at home for at least 24 hours after your fever goes down.
Just recently the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared this year's flu strain as a national epidemic. And while this year's vaccine may not fully protect you from getting the flu, health officials from the CDC are still strongly urging all to get it.
[Sources: Wisconsin State Journal; National Institute of Health; WKOW.com]