Your body’s best defense is your own immune system.

Why Do I Keep Getting the Flu?

I keep getting sick with the fluEvery winter, we at least consider the possibility of getting the flu…again. Why do we keep getting the flu every year, but we only catch other viruses once or maybe twice in a lifetime? Many of us had the chicken pox, which is caused by the herpes zoster virus, when we were kids. Once we have had the chicken pox, we don’t think twice about getting it again (although symptoms can arise again later in life, causing shingles). Mononucleosis, measles, mumps—we don’t worry about any of these once we have either had them once or been immunized. But the flu keeps coming back every winter. Why?

The Difference Between the Flu and Other Viral Infections

While these are all caused by viral infections, the difference between the influenza virus and many other viral infections is that the influenza virus has the ability to change in order to evade your immune system. Once we have mononucleosis, which is caused by Epstein-Barr virus, our body develops immunity and you can control the infection. We can still be a carrier for the virus (and 90-95% have evidence of EBV exposure), but we don’t get sick because our immune system keeps the virus under control. On the other hand, there are viruses that our bodies may not be able to control with an immune response. These are viruses like the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and hepatitis B and C viruses. In these cases, if we have the infection, we will likely need medicine to help our bodies control the infection.

The influenza virus lies somewhere in between those two: our bodies can mount an effective immune response against it and clear the infection. However, the influenza virus can also sometimes develop to escape our immune defenses, so you can be infected again. Not only does the flu virus have the ability to mutate so it looks new to our immune systems, it also has a genetic structure that lends itself to forming new strains. Every year, there are different strains that go around. Unfortunately, every once in a while a particularly nasty strain comes around, like the swine flu or the bird flu or the Spanish flu of 1918 that killed millions of people.

A Flu Vaccine Can Help

So, this is why flu shots are offered every year—to protect against new strains and to boost our immune system so we have protection we need to avoid the flu. The flu shot is a vaccination against the three influenza strains that experts believe will be prevalent that year. For instance, this year, there are two new strains that are suspected of being a problem and the flu shot protects against these two strains, as well as a strain that was included in last year’s flu shot. The flu vaccine does not protect against all flu strains. So, even if we have gotten a flu shot, we are not protected against every type of flu. It also means that every winter we need to think about protecting yourself against the influenza virus, regardless of how recently we have had the flu or been immunized.

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Flu, cough, and colds best treatment is your own active immune system. Help it with plenty of fluids, nutrition, rest, exercise and hand washing.