We are getting incredibly confusing and conflicting messages about this year’s flu season. First we were told that influenza was hitting early and hitting hard. Network news shows aired scary video clips of sick people in overcrowded emergency rooms. On January 9th the mayor of Boston declared a public health emergency because hospitals in the city were overwhelmed with patients. The city of Boston began offering free flu shots on January 12th hoping to control the epidemic.
On the same day, January 12th, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a public health emergency for his state and gave pharmacists the go-ahead to administer shots to children as young as 6 months old. Everyone is being urged to get a flu shot ASAP.
So far so bad. Surprisingly, though, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a new report suggesting that during the first week in January there had been a decline in high levels of flu activity, especially in the Southeast. The CDC intimated that levels might be dropping in the state of New York, even as New York City was declaring an emergency. There are now 47 states reporting widespread influenza outbreaks. The CDC also noted that doctors’ offices were reporting fewer cases of influenza.
So, has the flu season peaked or are we still in for severe outbreaks for weeks to come? At the moment it would appear that the CDC is hedging its bets. Dr. Thomas Frieden, head of the CDC, says the flu is “elevated” in most of the country and added, “it may be decreasing in some areas, but that’s hard to predict…influenza activity ebbs and flows.”
Bottom line: public health officials do not know where we are in this epidemic. Judging from the doctors in the trenches of emergency departments around the country, it is still very bad. If flu has peaked, they are not seeing it.
What About the Flu Shot?
We were told early in the season that this year’s vaccine was about as good as it gets. In other words, the match between the viral strains circulating in the country and the flu shot that was prepared months ago was 92%. That was very reassuring. But now the CDC reports that the actual effectiveness of the vaccine in preventing influenza illness may be 62%. For the bad influenza A strain of H3N2 that is causing so much misery, the vaccine may only be 55% effective.
If the match between circulating flu and vaccine is so very good this year, why are so many people still getting sick? Well, the dirty little secret that is never mentioned when people are urged to get their shot is that flu vaccines are far from 100% effective. When researchers have reviewed the medical literature for influenza immunization studies published between 1967 and 2011, they’ve concluded that effectiveness ranges from 16% at the bottom to 76% at the top with “pooled efficacy” of about 59% (The Lancet Infectious Diseases, Jan. 2012). That is roughly what the CDC’s preliminary data suggest for this year’s vaccine.
For some, that may mean the glass is more than half full. For others, it suggests that the flu vaccine is not all that great. Even the CDC director, Dr. Thomas Frieden, has admitted that “the flu vaccine is far from perfect, but it’s still the best tool to fight the flu.”
Another expert, Thomas Jefferson, MD, has been critical of vaccine effectiveness. Dr. Jefferson is Coordinator of the Cochrane Acute Respiratory Infections Group. These independent analysts have also analyzed all the available influenza studies. Dr. Jefferson points out that in healthy young adults for whom the shots work best, “you have to vaccinate between 33 and 99 healthy adults to avoid one case of influenza…In healthy adults, the vaccines shorten duration of illness by half a working day.” If other consumer goods, such as cars or toasters, were so unreliable, we would be outraged.
To hear a free “bonus” interview with Dr. Jefferson click on this link and then click on the bottom white arrow.
You may also find our Guide to Colds, Coughs and the Flu worth downloading.
People’s Pharmacy Bottom Line:
• We need better influenza vaccinations. Researchers around the world must come up with a better flu shot that works for a wider variety of strains, lasts longer and is far more effective. This should be a doable project, though it will take major resources to accomplish the task.
• Public health officials should be more honest about effectiveness. And we also need better data about adverse reactions. In the effort to encourage everyone to get a flu shot, public health experts have not wanted to dampen enthusiasm. Dr. Jefferson has pointed out that we have been slow to seek information about side effects of the flu shot.

• There is rarely any mention about antiviral drugs during a flu outbreak. There are, however, several medications that actually do seem to work against influenza either to prevent it or speed healing. There is some controversy about the effectiveness of drugs such as Tamiflu, but to date there is no evidence of widespread resistance to the medication. To be effective Tamiflu needs to be taken with 24 to 48 hours of the onset of symptoms.
Tamiflu (Oseltamivir) Side Effects:
• Digestive upset, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, diarrhea

• Headache

• Nosebleeds

• Psychological distress, suicidal thoughts, hallucinations

• Severe skin reactions, rash, redness (require immediate medical attention!)

What Is Your Experience?
We would love to know how you have fared this flu season. Did you get a flu shot? If so, did it work? Please comment below.
Did you get a shot and still come down with the flu? We want to hear your story as well. Did you experience any side effects from the shot? We would like to learn more about the pros and cons of this year’s vaccine.
We would also like to find out about Tamiflu experiences. Did you get a prescription for this oral drug? Did it work to either prevent the flu or speed healing? Did you experience any side effects?
Thanks for sharing your influenza stories this year. It is our sincere wish that you can avoid the flu (take your vitamin D) or, if you come down with it, that you recover quickly. For more information about the effects of vitamin D on the immune system, we suggest you take a moment to read this recent research report.
Here are some tips to avoid catching the flu.
Please share your story below in the comment section and thanks.

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  1. jsh
    Reply

    Kinda funny they say you can’t get the flu, from the flu shot. The past 7 years of getting the shot, including this year 2013. I got the flu again right around 6 to 7 days after getting the shot. I have been healthy before getting the shot every year for the past 7 years. 6 to 7 days after getting the shot like clock work, I get the flu. Think they need to rethink there statements on how you cannot get the flu, from the flu shot. I have heard 100’s of people complain of the same thing.

  2. EI
    Reply

    During the flu season, had the flu with a re-occurrence at which time I was advised to take the Tamiflu vaccine. There is a caution for “patients with the flu who take this medication may have an increased risk of nervous system problems and abnormal behavior.” I would appreciate further description of these side effects, treatments and prognosis since I was left with the side effects of unintentional movements, twitching/flailing of the left arm, hand and leg. I also have intermittent tingling of the left face.
    Simultaneously, I was on Cefuroxime.

  3. MB
    Reply

    May I say “knock on wood”? so far I and my husband have had the flu shots for several years with no bad reactions.
    I realize that the CDC uses statistical data to determine which ‘BUGS” to incorporate into a vaccine. So its really a “crap shoot” as to how effective the vaccine will be if a person is unlucky enough to fall victim to an unincorporated strain. –just hope your (and my) luck holds out!

  4. Mo
    Reply

    My father had the flu shot in November, and now he has the worst case of the flu I have ever seen. He has a horrific cough which sounds like a dying seal, and has just been given a chest xray because they think he has pneumonia.
    He is only in his mid 60’s and I am quite concerned how it has taken him down. He has an antibiotic and a nasal steroid spray for the congestion. I am making him take a probiotic supplement 3 times a day to hopefully ward off complications like c diff.
    The biggest problem right now is his aching ribcage and his inability to sleep for more than an hour at a time.

  5. IB
    Reply

    Got my flu shot in late October and had the flu last week. I get the vaccine every year and this is the first case of flu I’ve had in years.

  6. Beth
    Reply

    Too Little. Too Late.
    I just read you article today and I sure wish I had read it last week. On Monday I went to the Doc on an unrelated issue and, even though I had a bad cold at the time, she insisted I get a flu shot and a Tdap shot because I babysit my grandkids every week. The next day I woke up feeling like I was run over by a train – and I keep getting worse and worse! My head is completely congested, I’m coughing and wheezing, and running a low grade fever (99.8). What a MISTAKE!!! I wish I’d never seen the doc at all!!!!

  7. good3person3
    Reply

    My husband and I both got flu shots at $29 each last fall when the shots became available. Last week (Jan. 28), we were both sick with the flu and spent 4 days in bed with fever, extreme fatigue, and violent coughing. We know it was the flu because my husband went to the hospital with rapid heart rate, dehydration, and he was actually tested for the flu virus. We have rec’d flu shots every year for many, many years, and we will continue to get our flu shots because we are told it is with CONSIDERATION OF OTHERS to get the flu shots and not spread the disease. I just wish the shots were more effective.

  8. Claude
    Reply

    My husband and I both were vaccinated in November in Canada before leaving for Florida. It was not our regular practise to get vaccinated.
    One week after, both us had a running nose so bad, that at times we even did not have the time to reach for a Kleenex. We we reported it to Health Canada .
    We still have the problem to a lesser degree.

  9. Cat
    Reply

    I am 50 y/o and have had the flu twice in my life, both times were FROM THE FLU SHOT!!! The first one i received was in Boot Camp, in which I was hospitalized with severe flu for over a week. Same thing happened a year later when I received the 2nd one, after which I was exempt from ever having to have another one, Thank God!
    I was in the medical field most of my life and was around the sickest of the sick but never got the flu and NEVER received a flu shot, but everyone I worked with would take the flu shot and get sick with the flu, sometimes SEVERAL TIMES DURING THE SEASON!!
    With all the health risks associated with the shot and the little, if any, immunnity I have seen from it, it really is just not worth it.

  10. WS
    Reply

    Haven’t had a flu shot since I was a kid and had a bad reaction and was told not to have one again. With all the publicity, and being over 60 and exposed to children at work, I decided to have the flu shot again this year. I have been fatigued for 4 days since the shot and yesterday started having vertigo and clogged ear. Doubt if I’ll have another flu shot next year.

  11. JVE
    Reply

    My family and I have never taken the flu shot and seldom, if ever, get sick. We eat vegetables raised in our garden and minimize meat. We eat a lot of olive oil, butter, and spelt.
    We also know several doctors who will not take flu vaccines. They say, privately, that they don’t trust it. Admittedly, these MDs are suspicious of a lot of medical procedures, especially chemo-therapy and radiation treatments, saying that the only thing these treatments do for sure is increase hospital billings.
    Why would the CDC recommend flu vaccines that are 50-60% effective? Who benefits from increased sales of vaccines? And what other effects do they produce in you that they’re not telling you about? You’ll never know.
    We no longer have a true medical profession in the United States.
    What we have in it’s place is a medical industry.
    Best to rest when you get sick and let the body heal itself. If you break your arm, that’s the time see a doctor.

  12. JG
    Reply

    I decided to get the flu shot this year for the first time because of helping with elderly relatives’ care. I got the shot the first week in Dec. and am now on my seventh day with the flu in January. This is the first day I have been able to hold my head up. I have had the flu twice in my life, one lasting 3 days and the other 5 days. After reading the information shared, I don’t think I’ll bother with the shot again.

  13. MD
    Reply

    Got the shot for the first time and did not get the flu; guess it worked.

  14. Lh
    Reply

    So far only the one un-vaccinated person in our household has come down with anything flu like. I am ambivalent about the vaccine, but work in a hospital where it’s required or else we need to wear masks at all times. I think that’s idiotic. So I get the vaccine and forget about.

  15. DS
    Reply

    I received the flu shot in early November 2012. Came down with the classic flu symptoms starting Jan 2, but did not go to the doctor to have it tested.
    I also did lots of things to try to prevent it or limit it- wash hands frequently, don’t touch door handles, take lots of vitamin D, gargle with Listerine when the symptoms started, soaked in a hot bath, drank plenty of water, etc.
    I went back to work after 1 week, but my energy levels weren’t back for 10 days. I don’t think the shot worked for me this year.

  16. Barb
    Reply

    CAR,
    I tend to agree with the person who said your immune system was compromised and that didn’t help at all, but I’m a skeptic when it comes to the flu shot’s effectiveness. You may have gotten the flu regardless of whether you had the surgery.

  17. CAR
    Reply

    Yes, I am one of those people who yearly gets a flu shot because I have permanent damage to my left lung from radiation which I had because of breast cancer. The shot has normally seemed to help keep me well, but this year I got the upper respiratory bug, fever, chills, sorethroat, a serious cough & generally feeling pretty crummy for 3 weeks.
    I had gone to the allergist near the onset & he thought my breathing test was OK & assured me this was only lasting 3-5 days & if I wasn’t better by the 5th day, call him. Well, the 5th day was a Sun. (Sorry but you can die for all the medical profession cares when you get sick on Sat. or Sun.) I went to my primary care office for my weekly allergy shots & they thought I sounded terrible & immediately called in a Z/pack which I took. It helped somewhat, but I still have some residule effects.
    I got sick, but my husband did not nor my handicapped daughter for which I am thankful & yet we all got the shots at the same time. I did have a shoulder/joint replacement in Oct after I had gotten the shot & someone said they felt my immune system was compromised because of the surgery & that’s why I got sick.

  18. BI
    Reply

    I received the flu shot on a Sat at noon. I awakened on Sunday morning with aches and pains.. I could not differentiate whether it was muscular or joint. It actually scared me as I have never had something like this. No fever, no chills nothing like that. At the age of 60, I felt like a 90 year old woman with arthritis or some muscular problem. I got up Monday, very gently, and noticed I had no pain .. I have not been sick but have a little cough which may be “allergy ” or “sinus” nothing much out of ordinary and a bit tired. On my way to work Monday morning, I thought perhaps it might have been the result of the shot. Just had never been so “bruised all over feeling” even the bottom of my toes, my finger tips etc… was sooooooooooo strange. Had only started taking the flu shot three years before ..this was my forth shot since the ONE I took for swine flu back in 70’s.

  19. Pamela H. H.
    Reply

    I did not get a flu shot this year because I have severe doubts about their efficacy. I did come down with a confirmed case of Type A flu midway through Christmas Day. In under 48 hours I was able to see my family doctor, and began taking Tamiflu. I received no relief from the flu symptoms, which included fever, aching legs, headache, bronchial congestion, nasal congestion and a deep cough.
    The Tamiflu side effects included stomach pain and diarrhea. I was sick for 16 days and spent most of that time in bed. A friend who did receive the vaccination was sick for almost exactly the same amount of time, with almost exactly the same symptoms, and she also received no relief from Tamiflu. In our cases, the medical profession was unable to offer significant help. This year I first understood how someone could die from the flu. It’s pretty bad stuff.

  20. MimiB
    Reply

    I neglected to mention that many years ago I came down with the flu within days of getting a flu shot. I believe it was a result of the so called live virus immunization used then. It made me very very ill so I didn’t want to repeat that experience, and didn’t get flu shots for years after.
    My current doctor assured me that the inoculation they use these days is quite different, and I got the shot on his recommendation. He also warns all his patients that prevention is important, and that includes frequent hand washing, use of hand gel, avoiding crowds if possible and keeping distance from anyone who has any signs of illness to the point of not being in the same room with them if possible. My daughter and grandson were on a recent flight with an ill passenger who was coughing, sweaty, etc. He was so obviously sick with something resembling flu, constantly using tissues, etc, that fellow passengers all around him were issued disposable face masks.
    Why on earth wasn’t this man denied boarding by the airline? They’ll keep drunks from boarding, why not obviously ill people?

  21. MimiB
    Reply

    I’m a healthy 69 year old Floridian. I got the flu shot last week in response to all the news stories. I had no adverse reactions from it. Not even a sore arm. Seems to me that even if it’s only 60% effective, that’s better than having 0 % protection without the shot. I look at immunizations this way… if many people protect themselves against the flu by getting the shots, they are reducing the number of people who will get sick and spread the flu to others. The exact numbers will never be known.
    I have been reading that the CDC can only report on those flu cases that are reported to them. Many doctors don’t report formally, nor do many walk in clinics. There’s a lot of anecdotal information that flu is affecting a lot of people.

  22. LLE
    Reply

    I did not get the flu shot and I have not gotten the flu.

  23. GA
    Reply

    I’ve had asthma for most of my life and used to get the flu every year and then get sicker with asthma. I’ve been getting the flu shot since the late 70s and haven’t had the flu since nor any complications from the vaccine. The one year I didn’t get the flu shot I got the flu three times.

  24. Yoly
    Reply

    I agree that there is a “pharmaceutical profits” piece to all of this. Fear is being used to compel people to get the shot. Prevention, I would say is the best course. I find, and as per my ND, that echinacea and golden seal are good protectors. At the first sign of any cold like symptoms I start taking these in combination in tincture form. Seems to work so far. Eat well, stay away from cigarettes and alcohol, and crowded places.

  25. Chuck G
    Reply

    We are both 65, had flu shots in October. We think we are just finishing up mild cases of flu- 4 days of aches, congestion with deep cough, low grade fever. Came on very quickly. We both had colds last month and this was a lot different.

  26. mlh
    Reply

    I am 58 and had a flu shot in October with no side affects. I had the flu a few weeks ago; 102 temp for 2 days, very achy and congested, symptoms lasted about 5 days.

  27. SFE
    Reply

    Don’t get the flu shot, don’t get the flu. I think it has more to do with overall health, especially nutritional health. Ever heard of the “superbug”? Too many antibiotics used against viruses. Antibiotics are for use, sparingly, against bacterial infections. Get the refined carbohydrates out of the diet. Ie: white bread (wheat’s marginally ok), pasta, sugar (inc. sodas); potatoes (skin’s ok marginally); rice (brown’s ok occasionally). These are just examples, but go a long way. Replace them with vegetables – preferably raw. Wash good to get rid of the chemicals used to grow, transport, etc. as much as possible.
    Notice, I didn’t say fat in meat. The problem there is not the fat, it’s the synthetic hormones that accumulate there. The fat’s healthy in limited amounts, but how do you get the synthetic hormones out? Man’s done it again. Took something good and messed it up in the name of profit. I have an idea of what I’m saying – something to do with my degree in biochem or the one in nutrition or others, undergraduate and graduate?

  28. Mary
    Reply

    I will not forget this past year’s bout w/the flu and the effects of the Tamiflu medication I took. I cannot remember in all of my years (73) a worst time w/the the flu. I did not get a flu shot this year as in the past. I did get the Tamiflu medication which cost me $41 with my insurance 3 days after the onset. I took it for 5 days as directed. During that time, and for 2 weeks afterwards, I battled fever, body aches, diarrhea, coughing, no appetite, stomach pains and a tiredness I could not shake.
    NOW for the after effects, which were gas, diarrhea, and stomach cramps so bad I cried. I started taking a probotic to offset the damage the Tamiflu had created in my gut and drinking lots of ginger tea. Finally a month later, have still some green tinged mucus I cough up. My husband had much the same problems, except the severe stomach cramps. His problem now is a hacking cough??? I won’t ever take Tamiflu again but will certainly get a flu shot, because as they say, “prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

  29. PG
    Reply

    Haven’t had a flu shot this year. I’m 74. My daughter always complains that I get sick whenever I get the flu shot. Planned to get it but wasn’t feeling too good so I passed. Now I don’t want to get it as am planning on foot surgery next month and I can’t afford to be sick. Whenever I feel that I might be coming down with a cold or flu I take a natural cold remedy put out by Source Naturals. It usually helps.

  30. Joyce B.
    Reply

    Am 74 years old. Do not get flu shots ever. Have been fine so far this flu season. Live in central Fla. Hope luck holds! Been years since I have had flu. Love all your information sent in your e-mails!!

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