General Article

Flu Duration – Influenza Season 2012

Flu Duration – Influenza Season 2012

Given the recent interest in Armageddon movies, where an outbreak of an unknown type of supervirus mercilessly reduces the earth population and plunges civilization into absolute chaos, it is curious how the global efforts to control the flu each and every year go largely unnoticed. But just like in the movies, specialists from various organizations like the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), WHO (World Health Organization), CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) and other institutions analyze virus samples that were collected from around the world. The goal is to identify and predict which viruses will dominate the next influenza season. For it is only through a specially tailored vaccine that the public can be protected against them.

For 2012 three flu viruses have been chosen by the FDA to be included in the seasonal vaccine. Many factors determine if a virus is considered dangerous enough to be recommended for inclusion. The rate with which a virus is spreading as well as how much this virus is “immune” to last year’s vaccine play the most important roles in this decision. To be able to monitor the many virus strains out in the wild, 136 influenza centers in 106 countries continuously monitor and research all flu related activities. The essence of all this information is sent to and consolidated in the five main global flu institutes:

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, USA

The National Institue for Medical Research (NIMR) in London, UK

The Victoria Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory (VIDRL) in Melbourne, Australia

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in Tokyo, Japan

The National Institute for Viral Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing, China

Based on the combined information, a seasonal flu vaccine is selected, that promises to maximize the effectiveness against the likely virus strains of the next wave of influenza. The vaccine contains three components, where each component protects against one of the viruses that were mentioned at the beginning. However, since the immunity to flu viruses becomes less over time, everybody should get vaccinated each year again. Also the viruses mutate over time, changing the parts in their structure that a vaccinated person’s immune system was trained to recognize and fight, rendering the vaccination more and more useless with time. Although a universal flu vaccine is said to be possible, its realization is probably still a lot of years in the future.

In the light of the immense coordinated efforts that are necessary to produce the yearly influenza vaccine, it is a great achievement that each year thousands of people are vaccinated against the flu and thereby spared the annual illness. It is recommended that everybody older than one year takes the flu shot to be protected against this serious disease. Even though influenza patients usually recover in ten to fourteen days, there are cases where the symptoms are very severe, and even cases of death caused by the flu occur approximately 36000 times a year. So it is good to be prepared for the influenza season in 2012, and take the best steps towards one’s optimal protection and health.