The U.S. Centers for Disease Control confirms this flu season is severe, and it has arrived several week early.
The earlier-than-usual start to the season and the high number of people coming down with it mean a lot of people are talking about the flu vaccine.
"Luckily, this year the vaccine matches very well," explains Dr. Jose Montero, an infectious disease expert at Tampa General Hospital.
The CDC finds this year's flu vaccine is 62 percent effective. That means those who get it have a 62 percent chance they won't have to see a doctor with flu symptoms.
Those findings are consistent with a University of Minnesota study. Researchers crunched the numbers over 45 years and found the seasonal flu vaccine only works 59 percent of the time in adults.
LINK: Resources on preventing and fighting the flu:
They also found the nasal "Flu Mist" vaccines protect 83 percent of children. But they don't believe it is as effective in adults.
"The flu vaccine is not perfect," Montero explained. "In the future, we hope vaccines are even more effective, and that we start learning how to develop newer vaccines so we produce them sooner. Hopefully have more efficacy that we see right now."
Work is underway for a new and improved flu shot. Every year, the vaccine is unique, formulated to build immunity to three different strains of the virus. Next year, the CDC expects to release a vaccine with four strains of the virus.
Researchers are also closer than ever to a universal flu shot, which would target all strains of the virus.
The FDA recently approved Flucelvax. Instead of using chicken eggs to grow the vaccine, researchers are using cell cultures. The hope is to improve effectiveness, speed production, and get vaccine to those with egg allergies.
The government is also sponsoring research into developing vaccine components using nature. One area showing progress: growing vaccine proteins using tobacco plants.
But until then, the top flu buster is the current vaccine. Anti-viral prescriptions like Tamiflu and Relenza can speed up recovery.
"A lot of times when it comes to the flu, it's keeping the fever and the body aches away doing things like ibuprofen, and acetaminophen as well as cough suppressants."
If you start feeling sick, monitor your symptoms and if they persist or worsen, seek help.
"If you go five days, and you're not getting any better, and you are getting worse, you should see your doctor by then," Montero said. to say do I have a complication of influenza, or something entirely different, remember not everything [that gives you a fever] is influenza," explains Montero.
It could be a sign of something more serious, like pneumonia, which could prove deadly.
"If it sounds like the flu, if they have the symptoms and sudden onset, we're treating them like the flu," explains CVS/Minute Clinic nurse practitioner Angela Swary. "Most people say I dragged myself out of bed to get here today, that they got hit by a Mack truck."
Swary, like so many doctors and nurses, is on the front lines treating patients with symptoms like sudden fever and chills, body aches, and extreme fatigue.
In some cases, entire families are sick.
"My twin 3 year olds have the flu. My wife has the flu, my 9 year old is coughing, so I thought we'd better come in and get a flu shot," Rick Weschler said.
Those flu shots are better late than never.
MORE LINKS RELATED TO THIS STORY:
CVS - Minute Clinic
Tampa General Hospital
Dr. Jose Montero
University of South Florida College of Medicine
Novartis: Private-Public Partnership, Holly Springs, N.C.
Cell-based flu vaccine Flucelvax, FDA approved November 2012
VLP - Flu vaccine in Tobacco Plants
Medicago Grant - Jan. 2013
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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