Winter and fall seem to be the most vulnerable times for getting contagious viruses because we tend to share more indoor time with other people when the weather starts cooling down.

However, there are plenty of FDA-approved medicines and vaccines you can take to combat these ailments.

Colds and Flu

A lot of respiratory infections go away as soon as they surface—often within a matter of a couple of days. There are some that are more lasting and can create serious health issues. Tobacco users and people who are around secondhand smoke often are more likely to experience respiratory infections and more serious complications than nonsmokers and nontobacco users.

Colds typically cause a runny or stuffy nose and sneezing. Sometimes, other symptoms are present like watery eyes, coughing and a scratchy throat. These are often spread through infected mucus and often gradually occur. To date, there is no vaccine available that combats a cold.

The Flu arrives suddenly and lasts a longer time than colds do. Signs of the flu are chills, fever, headache, body aches, dry cough, tiredness and overall discomfort. You can also have cold symptoms like runny or stuffy nose, watery eyes and sneezing. Some children have nausea and vomiting with the flu. This virus is contagious and spreads from droplets that occur when people with the flu talk, sneeze or cough. Touching a surface that has the flu virus can also cause you to catch the flu.

The time between the months of October and May is considered the Flu season in the United States with peaks time between December and February. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that:

  • Every year over 200,000 Americans experience hospital-related episodes from the flu (20,000 of these are children under age 5).
  • Between the 2014-15 flu season, 40 million flu-related conditions occurred. There were about 19 million flu-related healthcare visits and 970,000 flu-related hospitalizations, which was a record high for one flu season.
  • Between 1976 and 2006, there were between 3,000 to 49,000 deaths reported that related to the flu.

Prevention Tips

Get vaccinated against flu.

People ages 6 months and older should get the flu vaccine in nasal spray or shot form to decrease the need to be out of work and school because of the symptoms of the flu. The vaccine may also prevent hospitalizations and deaths from this virus.

It’s best to get vaccinated each year in the month of October, but it can still provide some relief if taken in January and afterwards. The reason why the vaccine has to be taken every year is because the virus mutates frequently and the protection from the previous year’s vaccine starts to decrease in effectiveness. If you are prone to other complication from having the flu, then it is highly recommended you take the vaccine every year.

People at high risk for the flu are:

  • Women who are pregnant
  • Children under 5 years old (especially those under 2)
  • People 6People 65 and up
  • People with certain chronic health conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart and lung disease).

If you work in the health profession or live with/care for people with weak immune systems or are over 65 years old, then it is extremely important you get vaccinated.  Pregnant mothers are advised to get the flu vaccine while pregnant so their baby can stay protected up to six months after birth. Also, make sure people who come in contact with the baby are also current with their vaccinations.

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Healthy Winter Season

October 22, 2016

Contagious viruses are actives year round, but in the fall and winter we are the most vulnerable to them. People spend more time indoors during this time with other people and there’s a lot of cold weather. To combat viruses we can use several FDA approved vaccines and medications.

Viruses

Most respiratory viruses are gone within a few days and have no lasting effects, but some of them can cause serious health problems. People that use tobacco or get secondhand smoke, are prone to respiratory illnesses and can have more complications than nonsmoker do when exposed.

Colds

A cold usually causes sneezing, stuffed, and runny noses. There may be a scratchy throat as well as watery eyes and coughing. There’s no vaccine for a cold and they start gradually and often come from contact with infected mucus.

Flu

The flu last longer than a cold and can come on suddenly. Headache, fever, chills, body aches, dry cough, general misery, and fatigue are all symptoms of the flu. The flue may also cause a stuffy or runny nose and there may be nausea or vomiting issues. The flu is spread when people talk, sneeze or talk and spread droplets in the air. You may also get the flu by touching an infected surface that has the flu virus.

Tips for Prevention

There are rare exceptions, but everyone over six months of age should get the flu vaccine. You can get the vaccine as a nasal spray or a shot. This reduces doctor’s visits, flu illness as well as missed school or work. The vaccine also prevents hospitalization due to flu complications as well as death from the flu.

You should get the vaccine before October, but vaccines through January and other months can still offer you protection. You need an annual vaccination as the flue always changes and the vaccine needs to be updated. A person’s immune protection from the virus will decline over time. For people at high risk, an annual flu vaccine is important. These individuals include:

  • Children under five years of age, and especially those younger than two
  • Women that are pregnant
  • People that have chronic illnesses like diabetes, asthma, lung, or heart disease
  • Anyone over the age of sixty-five

Wash Hands Often

You should wash your hands often and teach your children to do this also. Colds and flu can be passed through contaminated surfaces like your hands. Soap and water are best for hygiene according to the FDA, but you can also use alcohol based hand rubs. Make sure you clean the hands and remove dirt or blood as this will make the alcohol based rub ineffective at killing bacteria.

Limit Exposure to Those that are Sick

Try to keep small children like infants away from crowds during their first few months.

Heathy Habits for Prevention

  • Make sure you eat a healthy diet
  • Get plenty of sleep
  • Make sure you exercise
  • Keep tabs on your stress

Seasonal Flu Vaccines

December 20, 2014

Many of the projected 135-139 million doses of influenza vaccines being produced for this flu season for use in the U.S. are now available to consumers from six manufacturers licensed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

A variety of flu vaccines, including some that were not available during past influenza seasons, are available this year. In addition to the availability of vaccines that protect against three strains of influenza virus (trivalent), vaccines that protect against four strains of the virus (quadrivalent) will also be available this year.

In addition, a vaccine that is produced by growing the virus in cells rather than in eggs will be available for use in people 18 years of age and older.

Unlike eggs, cells can be frozen for later use to grow large volumes of cells for the production of vaccine. This could provide a faster start-up time of the manufacturing process for any unexpected need.

“New technologies are providing additional and diverse influenza vaccines, which helps to ensure an adequate supply in the Unites States,” said Karen Midthun, M.D., director of FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.

“Influenza seasons are unpredictable and can be severe, even deadly,” she added. “Last year’s influenza season brought an increase in reported hospitalizations and deaths compared to recent years, and vaccination is the best defense to prevent influenza.”

All of the vaccines have been determined by FDA to be safe and effective. Getting vaccinated early, before flu season is in full swing, is key to prevention.

An Exacting Process

Manufacturing flu vaccines is an exacting and complex process. New vaccines must be produced each year because the viruses change from year to year and because the protection received the previous year diminishes over time.

Each February, before one flu season ends, the FDA, World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other public health experts collaborate on collecting and reviewing data to identify the virus strains likely to cause the most illnesses in the next flu season. Based on that information and the recommendations of an FDA advisory committee, FDA selects the strains for manufacturers to include in their vaccines for use in the United States.

Both egg-based flu vaccines and vaccines made with newer technologies work the same way; they trigger the immune system of the person receiving the vaccine to produce antibodies capable of attacking the virus.

Vaccines are available in a variety of delivery methods, as a needle into muscle, as a needle injected into skin (approved for ages 18 through 64), and as a nasal spray (approved for people ages 2 through 49). In addition, one vaccine made in a high dose formulation is approved for people 65 years of age and older.

The Procedure

Under traditional egg-based production methods, once the influenza viruses have been selected, they are adapted for use in manufacturing and provided to companies licensed by FDA. The manufacturers inject each virus strain into eggs, which are incubated for several days to allow the virus to multiply.

The virus-loaded fluid from the eggs is then harvested and purified.

Manufacturers grow each strain separately then test it, including for potency. Then the strains are mixed and tested again. Once divided into standard dosages, the vaccines are put into containers such as vials, syringes or sprayers.

Test results are submitted to FDA, along with samples from each batch, or lot. FDA reviews the test results and the samples before releasing the vaccine for distribution in the United States. Each lot, or batch, undergoes testing before release by FDA.

FDA also inspects the manufacturing facilities on a regular basis and continues to monitor the safety of the vaccines once they are in use by the public.

The level of effectiveness can depend on the health and immune system of individuals and how well a particular season’s vaccine strains match circulating flu strains.

There is a possibility of a less than optimal match between the virus strains predicted to circulate and the virus strains that end up causing the most illness. However, even if the vaccine and the circulating strains are not an exact match, the vaccine may reduce the severity of the illness and help prevent influenza-related complications.

CDC recommends that everyone six months of age and older get vaccinated soon after vaccine becomes available. Those people for whom vaccination is particularly important include young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and those who suffer from a variety of chronic illnesses, including asthma, diabetes and heart disease.

Although the winter months are usually the peak month for flu activity, influenza disease in people typically begins appearing in October.

FDA’s website has specific information about each flu vaccine, including the FDA-approved age range of use. The website also provides the names of the influenza viruses included in this season’s vaccines and an up-to-date list of the number of vaccine lots that have been released for each manufacturer.

Meant to get vaccinated in the fall to ward off the flu, but somehow didn’t get around to it? Think it’s too late to get vaccinated now?

Not so. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), vaccinations can be protective as long as flu viruses are circulating. And while seasonal flu outbreaks can happen as early as October, flu activity usually peaks in January or February, and can last well into May.

FDA plays a key role in ensuring that safe and effective influenza vaccines are available every flu season. In fact, the task of producing a new vaccine for the next flu season starts well before the current flu season ends. For FDA, it’s a year-round initiative.

Why a new vaccine?

According to Marion Gruber, Ph.D., director of FDA’s Office of Vaccine Research and Review, there are several reasons that new vaccines must be manufactured each year.

“Influenza viruses can change from year to year, due to different subtypes and strains that circulate each year,” says Gruber. A vaccine is needed that includes virus strains that most closely match those in circulation, and the protection provided by the previous year’s vaccine will diminish over time.

Identifying Likely Virus Strains

Each February, before that year’s flu season ends, FDA, the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other public health experts collaborate on collecting and reviewing data from around the world to identify the flu viruses likely to cause the most illnesses in the next flu season. Based on that information and the recommendations of an FDA advisory committee, the agency selects the virus strains for FDA-licensed manufacturers to include in their vaccines for use in the United States.

“The closer the match between the circulating strains causing disease and the virus strains in the vaccine, the better the protection against influenza,” Gruber says.

In addition, FDA inspects the manufacturing facilities on a regular basis, and prepares and provides reagents (necessary test components to standardize vaccines) that vaccine manufacturers need to make their vaccine and to verify its identity and strength. FDA also evaluates each manufacturer’s vaccine each year for approval purposes, conducts lot release (that is, performs certain tests and reviews the results of the manufacturers’ tests on each lot of vaccine prior to distribution), and continues to monitor the safety of the vaccines once they are approved for use and in distribution.

FDA and CDC scientists routinely evaluate reports to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) of health problems that may be associated with a vaccine.

FDA conducts yearly surveillance for Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare neurological condition associated with the 1976 flu vaccine, in collaboration with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. And the agency is now testing influenza surveillance in the new Mini-Sentinel Post Licensure Rapid Immunization Safety Monitoring (PRISM) system. If testing proves successful, FDA will be able to monitor rates of health problems after influenza vaccination among members of multiple health plans that serve the general U.S. population.

CDC also monitors the safety of annual influenza and other vaccines through the Vaccine Safety Datalink (VSD) by almost real-time observation of the health of people who are vaccinated, in collaboration with nine integrated health care organizations.

Who’s Most Affected So Far?

CDC tracks influenza activity year round in the U.S. and typically children and seniors are most at risk for influenza, but occasionally a flu virus will circulate that disproportionately affects young and middle-aged adults. So far, data reported by CDC suggest that 2013-2014 could be such a flu season.

CDC received an unusually high number of reports of severe respiratory illness among young and middle-aged adults in the last two months of 2013. Many of the cases were associated with the H1N1 strain of influenza that affected children and young adults compared to older adults during the 2009 influenza pandemic. The 2009 H1N1 virus has circulated each year since the pandemic. It is not known if those most severely affected received a vaccine, but this particular strain is included in this year’s vaccine and will help provide protection.

“Influenza seasons and severity are often unpredictable. Annual influenza vaccination is the best way to prevent influenza among people 6 months of age and older,” says Gruber. “However, taking such practical measures as washing hands, covering coughs and sneezes and staying home when sick can also help to decrease the spread and minimize the effects of flu.”

In addition, while antiviral drugs are not a substitute for vaccine, they can help to treat influenza. Tamiflu (oseltamivir phosphate) and Relenza (zanamivir) are the two FDA-approved influenza antiviral drugs recommended by CDC for use against recently circulating influenza viruses.

Fraudulent Flu Products

September 26, 2013

As the flu continues to make people sick—and even cause deaths—scammers are alive and well, promoting their fraudulent products to the unsuspecting public.

These scammers sell their products with claims to prevent, treat or cure the flu, even though they have not been tested and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved them.

FDA warns consumers to steer clear of fraudulent flu products, which can be found online and in retail stores and may include products marketed as dietary supplements or conventional foods, drugs, nasal sprays and devices.

“As any health threat emerges, fraudulent products appear almost overnight,” says Gary Coody, R.Ph., FDA’s national health fraud coordinator. “Right now, so-called ‘alternatives’ to the flu vaccine are big with scammers.”

“These unproven products give consumers a false sense of security,” says Mary Malarkey, director of FDA’s Office of Compliance and Biologics Quality. “There is no need to buy a product that claims to be an alternative to the vaccine. Flu vaccine is still available and it’s not too late to get vaccinated.”

The best way to prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated every year, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the vaccine for adults and children over six months of age. To find a list of clinics, supermarkets, pharmacies and other vaccine providers in your neighborhood, visit www.flu.gov, click on “Flu Vaccine Finder” and enter your zip code.

If you get the flu, two FDA-approved antiviral drugs—Tamiflu (oseltamivir) and Relenza (zanamivir)—are treatment options recommended by CDC. These prescription drugs can help fight the virus in your body and shorten the time you’re sick. They can also be used to help prevent the flu.

Types of Fraudulent Flu Products

There are no legally marketed over-the-counter (OTC) drugs to prevent or cure the flu. However, there are legal OTC products to reduce fever and to relieve muscle aches, congestion, and other symptoms typically associated with the flu.

But unapproved drugs (which sometimes are marketed as dietary supplements), conventional foods (such as herbal teas) or devices (such as air filters and light therapies) are fraudulent if they make flu prevention, treatment or cure claims, says Coody, “because they haven’t been evaluated by FDA for these uses.”

On Jan. 25, 2013, FDA and the Federal Trade Commission jointly sent a warning letter to the company that markets “GermBullet,” a nasal inhaler that makes flu prevention and treatment claims. The firm is required to remove the language in its labeling and advertising that violates federal law.

“If the company continues to sell the product without removing the deceptive and illegal language, the firm may be subject to enforcement action, which could include seizure of the products or other legal sanctions,” says FDA Regulatory Counsel Brad Pace, J.D., of FDA’s Health Fraud and Consumer Outreach Branch.