Am I sick because I'm healthy?
November 6, 2009 10:52 AM   Subscribe

Flu vaccine and immunology questions, I have a few.

Me: late 30's male, relatively fit and healthy.

Last month I got the FluMist, and my kids got the first of two flu shots. This is for regular flu, not H1N1. The next couple of days I was pretty congested in the head and was sneezing quite a bit. Kids were fine. My symptoms were confined to my head and went away quickly, unlike when I have a regular cold (usually spreads to my throat and lungs).

first questions: Is my body's response to the FluMist indicative of a strong immune system, a weak immune system, or neither? Does such a response to a vaccine correlate to future immunity?

Earlier this week, my kids got the flu shot booster (again, not H1N1). The next couple of days they had runny noses and were slightly irritable. A couple of days after that, I am again experiencing the same sort of head-cold-like symptoms.

second questions: Could my current symptoms be related to the vaccine response my kids experienced? Is it possible to "catch" the flu vaccine from someone else, especially germy sneezy kids? Shouldn't I have already built up immunity?
posted by Mountain Goatse to Health & Fitness (10 answers total)
Some vaccines are made out of weakened, but live, viruses. Such viruses can be contagious. The Sabin polio vaccine is, and this is considered a feature, not a bug. Back in the 1950's when that vaccine was first introduced, part of why it was so effective at eliminating polio in the industrialized world was that when kids were given it, their parents usually ended up vaccinated too.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:58 AM on November 6, 2009

My understanding is the mist is a weakened virus, and the shot is a dead virus.
posted by Mountain Goatse at 11:03 AM on November 6, 2009

It is likely that your reaction had nothing to do with the vaccine at all, though suggests that this is a not unheard of experience. IANAD, but I don't believe that displaying these symptoms is particularly indicative of a good/poor immune response-- for that, you'd have to get a serum antibody count.
posted by The White Hat at 11:12 AM on November 6, 2009

As an immunology researching in the middling past (i.e. my education may have expired), my two cents is this:

An immunity is not a guarantee against feeling symptoms - all protective immune responses do is shorten the duration of illness, so it wouldn't be unreasonable for you to experience some symptoms short of an actual full blown flu.

Whether your responses indicate a strong/weak/etc. immune system, it's kind of hard to say. The component parts of your immune system have these targeting responses - you have protections against bacterial infections, viral infections, worm infections, etc. that have some overlap but ultimately are different processes. So, does your physical response mean that you are super good at fighting off viruses or not? I think The White Hat has it - without tests, it's hard to rate how it's working (i.e. symptoms aren't exactly a good indicator of function).
posted by oreonax at 11:13 AM on November 6, 2009

Yeargh. I should review better - that should read "As an immunology researcher" not researching...
posted by oreonax at 11:14 AM on November 6, 2009

Chocolate Pickle is right to point out the conceptual parallel between oral polio vaccine and the live attenuated influenza vaccine, but as far as I know, in the latter case there is only a theoretical possibility of vaccine-strain virus being transmitted from the vaccinee to others, whereas there was good evidence of indirect immunization with the oral polio vaccine. (I think it would only have been other children who benefited, though - when it was endemic, adults would certainly have already had it.)
posted by lakeroon at 12:22 PM on November 6, 2009

Flu Mist is a live virus but it's only cold, it can survive in your head and give you the symptoms that you described, but it will die by the time it gets down into your lungs.

If your kids received a shot, you could not have gotten any illness because of that.

However if someone does have the FluMist, it could be possible to spread it to someone else. I know many OBGYN docs who will only get the H1N1 shot and not the mist b/c they don't want to transfer it to their preggor patients.
posted by texas_blissful at 12:33 PM on November 6, 2009

texas_blissful, the flu vaccine is regularly given to women at every stage of pregnancy as it is not dangerous to either mother or fetus and it prevents the flu, which is.

That said, the symptoms you describe were not necessarily caused by anything foreign, like the flu or a dead flu, but rather your body's attempt to fight it:

The runny nose and sneezing are your immune system's attempts to keep viruses and virus pregnant cells moving out of you nasal passageways and then the congestion is to dehydrate them while flooding the area with T-cells and eosinophils

The swelling glands underneath your jaw are lymphocytes, with an immunoglobulin capable of detecting whatever your immuno-presenting cells found that was new and alarming, replicating exponentially to defend you against it.

In other words the symptoms you describe are all indicative of a functioning immune system, that may or may not have found something worthwhile to fight and likely has a lasting immunity against whatever it found which may be, include, or ignore the flu vaccine.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:09 PM on November 6, 2009

you can't pass along flu vaccine. what you are describing is a normal immune response to a vaccine. i get that too.

the other likely explanation is that you were already infected with a minor (not-flu) bug or caught one shortly afterward, by coincidence.
posted by thinkingwoman at 3:05 PM on November 6, 2009

Blasdelb - To be fair, I never said that a pregnant woman should not take the mist vaccine; rather that in my observation, that is the course that many OBs have chosen.

It is true that viral shedding from the vaccine is unlikely, but it is possible. That is why guidelines suggest that caregivers of immunosuppressed patients should wait up to a week before having close contact with such patients.
posted by texas_blissful at 8:43 PM on November 6, 2009

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