The drumbeat has begun. Americans are being urged to line up early for flu shots. The message is that if people act fast to get vaccinated now they will be protected from influenza when it becomes widespread this winter.
This year there are more choices than ever. There are all sorts of shots, including high-tech varieties that are made in cell cultures instead of incubated in eggs. You can get a vaccine sprayed up your nose if you don’t like shots. “Quadrivalent” vaccines protect against four different strains of flu.
Most people assume that if they get vaccinated, they won’t come down with influenza. That is certainly the hype, but the statistics tell a different story.
Last year’s flu vaccine was an especially good match for the influenza viruses that were circulating during the epidemic. Experts had anticipated correctly which strains would predominate, and there was a 92 percent match with what actually showed up. In theory, this should have provided superb protection.
In reality, however, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did its post-season analysis, it found that the vaccine was only about 27 percent effective for people over 65. This is a high-risk group that is more vulnerable to flu complications such as pneumonia.
Worse, the most virulent form of the flu last year, H3N2, was hardly deterred by vaccination. Only 9 percent of vaccinated older people were protected from this bug.
We heard from one reader: “I had the flu shot this year as usual, but I got the flu anyway. I am 73 and have heart failure and kidney disease. I had fever, aches, headache, sore throat, congestion and cough, plus my eyes hurt so badly I could hardly look at light. I was incredibly sleepy and napped morning and afternoon, plus went to bed early and slept till 8 in the morning. Most atypical for me.
“I thought at first it was a cold, and by the time I realized it was flu, I was too sick to go to the doctor for antiviral medicine. The worst is over after 10 days, but I’m not well yet.”
Even younger folks aren’t necessarily protected by getting their shot. Another reader reported: “I got the flu shot, as I do every year. And although I have not been to the doctor, I am pretty sure I have the flu. I went from feeling fine to feeling like a bus had mowed me down in about eight hours. I started medicating myself when my fever hit 102.
“I have had fever for three days so far, along with a dry, painful cough, general achiness, wooziness and exhaustion. I am an otherwise healthy 45-year-old woman. My husband and 4-year-old son also have had this illness (though they, too, got the flu shot).”
We hope this year’s vaccination is more effective than last year’s, but public health officials need to be honest about how well this preventive measure works. Even in good years, the shots fail to protect many of the most susceptible individuals.
Q: Who would have dreamed that the very odd suggestion of vinegar in water would actually work for heartburn? I tried several home remedies (including pickled ginger and ginger tea), but they didn’t help.
After a bad acid-reflux episode one night, I bit the bullet and swallowed 2 tablespoons of vinegar in 8 ounces of water. It took some time to get down, and it burned a little along the way, but I went back to bed and slept undisturbed for three hours. The next day, I drank some during the day and before bedtime and slept through the night. Last night was my second night of undisturbed sleep. Thank you so much for this suggestion!
Should one take vinegar and water as a preventative or only when heartburn is present? I also am a little concerned about what vinegar can do to one’s teeth. Can you address that, please?
Answer: We have mostly heard from people who use vinegar as a remedy for heartburn symptoms rather than as a preventive measure. The question about its effect on teeth is important. Vinegar, lemon juice and other acids can soften tooth enamel. Make sure not to brush the teeth for about an hour after you have consumed the vinegar. Otherwise, the toothbrush may abrade the softened enamel. Rinsing with plain water after drinking vinegar water will probably help protect the teeth somewhat.
Q: Actually, this is not a question but an answer. On your radio show, a caller with lactose intolerance asked about eating yogurt. I also am lactose-intolerant and have come up with a very good solution that I would like to share with you.
I buy lactase capsules, add a little bit of water and crush them with a mortar and pestle. They dissolve easily. I add this mixture to fresh yogurt and put it in the refrigerator for two hours. I can eat this without problems. I’ve also used this technique with cottage cheese.
Answer: Lactose intolerance results from a lack of the digestive enzyme lactase that breaks down milk sugar. Symptoms may include bloating, gas and diarrhea. Thanks for an interesting solution.
Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers in their column. Write to them via their website: www.PeoplesPharmacy.com.