Study questions effectiveness of annual flu shots

8:37 PM, Mar 6, 2013   |    comments
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MINNEAPOLIS - The medical community needs to rethink the concept of annual flu shots, according to Dr. Michael Osterholm, Director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Diseases Research.

Osterholm was commenting on a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and the University of Michigan. The study includes 328 households in Michigan who were checked before and during the flu season.

"We have learned that if you have been vaccinated repeatedly, year after year, that the subsequent protection that you get in 'follow-out' years may be much lower than it is if you just get vaccinated sporadically, every couple of years," said Osterholm. "This research data are preliminary, but there are more studies coming that likely support that."

"The preliminary data from the recently published study suggests that if you have two individuals, one vaccinated last year and this year and one vaccinated only this year, the one who is vaccinated just this year actually has a higher level of protection than the one vaccinated two years in a row," he added.

The study indicates that more study is needed when it comes to how repeated flu vaccinations relate to the human immune system.

"The real message is stay tuned," said Osterholm.

Asked about another CDC alert about an antibiotic resistant strain of bacteria in hospitals, Osterholm was blunt.

"Today, all I can say is, if it is necessary to be in a hospital, be there, but if at all you can get out, get out," said Osterholm, "Today, unfortunately, many of these infectious agents that are spread among very sick people occur in the hospital setting."

Osterholm said the "superbug" has been found in some Minnesota hospitals, but has been limited in impact because local hospital officials have reacted quickly to isolate any patients with the infection.

"When you isolate them, it is not that you are trying to protect the patient. The patient is already infected. What you are trying to do is to protect other patients around him," Osterholm said.

Osterholm said preventing infection is vital including hospital staff hand-washing, using gloves and gowns and proper environmental cleaning. He also commented that he believes the society is entering a post antibiotic world, in which other ways of combating bacteria is needed.

He pointed to research into phages as an example. Phages are viruses that can attack and kill bacteria. There was a great deal of research into phages prior to the introduction of antibiotics in the 1940's. Osterholm said that research has returned, particularly in Russia.

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