Friday, November 11, 2011

Getting your flu shot and why it matters

 

Flu season is upon us and everyone should get a flu shot. Everyone should get a flu shot to lessen the chance that children and the elderly and those with compromised immune systems will get the flu. For, the flu (or influenza) is nasty business: “On average 41,400 people died each year in the United States between 1979 and 2001 from influenza.”Influenza - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. However, as bad as that is there is even a more compelling reason why you need to get your flu shot.

With the flu there is always the chance that it will morph into a pandemic flu. Basically, a pandemic flu is when humans catch a variation of the flu that has been transmitted from bird to human or from swine to human. Then people die. But when that flu jumps from human to human millions can die quickly. “The 1918 flu pandemic, commonly referred to as the Spanish flu, was a category 5 influenza pandemic caused by an unusually severe and deadly Influenza A virus strain of subtype H1N1.”Influenza pandemic - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. I suggest you read “The Great Influenza: The story of the deadliest pandemic in history”, by John M. Barry.” Some historians have suggested that over 100 million people died from this virulent form of the flu. World War I and World War II didn’t kill that many people.

So, given that, I’m wondering why the New York State Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control haven’t put more messages out about getting your flu shot since October:

Here’s what the New York State Department said about getting flu shots a early this fall:

State Health Commissioner Leads by Example in Getting Flu Shot “All New Yorkers Urged To Get Vaccinated As Soon As Possible ALBANY, N.Y. (October 25, 2011) – New York State Health Commissioner Nirav R. Shah, M.D., M.P.H., visited the Whitney M. Young Jr. Albany Health Center today to demonstrate how easy it is to protect yourself against the flu. As he received his annual flu shot, Dr. Shah urged all New Yorkers to get vaccinated as soon as possible. "About five minutes is all it takes to protect yourself from a dangerous virus," Commissioner Shah said. "Flu vaccinations are available at a variety of locations, including health centers, physician offices, and many local pharmacies, and are often covered by insurance plans. There's simply no reason not to be vaccinated."” (October 25, 2011) New York State Department of Health

The Centers for Disease Control (CD) says you should get a flu shot:

CDC Online Newsroom - Press Release: October 14, 2011 “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the initial “FluView” report for the U.S. 2011–2012 flu season with the message that flu activity is currently low, making this the perfect time to get vaccinated. There should be lots of vaccine available, because the supply is projected to set a U.S. record. “It takes about two weeks after vaccination for the body′s immune response to fully kick in,” says Joe Bresee, M.D., Chief of CDC′s Influenza Epidemiology and Prevention Branch. “It′s best to get” Flu.gov

This is what you have to get your head around. Some years there is more of a chance of a pandemic flu than others. It’s a crap shoot. Meaning, it’s hard to predict if anyone year will be the killer year. When the experts are making flu serum earlier in the year they can’t tell exactly if they have the form of the flu that will take off later in the year because these kinds of flu can turn on a dime. Back in the winter of 1918 only a few died of the Spanish Flu. It’s only when that same flu returned in the fall of 1918 and the winter of 1919 that it metastasized into one of the world’s worst people killers.

We tend to think that the danger of a flu pandemic depends on how much fuss is created in mainstream news about the flu, sometime criticizing heads of government who plow millions of public dollars into a possible flu pandemic that doesn’t occur. Of course, one of the reasons why a possible flu pandemic doesn’t span out is because under this possible threat folks get vaccinated and that prevents the flu from going viral.

But the real reason, and this is my point that I’ve taken so long to get to, is that in order to be ready for something so virulent and fast and pervasive as a pandemic flu, we have to have the infrastructure—serum, everyone with a health plan so they can get shots, a distribution system for the serum, a network for containment (keeping folks from going to work, and businesses economically healthy enough to produce the serum world-wide. To do that ya’ll need to get a flu shot each year to keep this infrastructure viable and ready to go.

Many like to hold government officials ‘accountable’ for ramping up the attention for flu shots (like President Ford’s 1976 Flu decision) when a pandemic doesn’t occur. Then, the public got all shook up and seemingly a lot of public money went to waste. That’s wrong-headed thinking. Predicting pandemic flu wouldn’t be so expense and open to criticism if we had an infrastructure ready to handle a pandemic all the time. That would mean everyone should have a health care plan (in the US, 50 million folks don’t) and everyone should get a flu shot each year to keep the system honed for an eventual pandemic outbreak. A pandemic is inevitable because humans in some countries live in very close proximity to birds and swine. A flu pandemic is only a matter of time.

Will we hold those who have fought against complete health care for all (for it is the weak links, the sick, who provide a pandemic the mechanism to spread the disease quickly) responsible when a pandemic strikes? Will we hold those who criticize government officials for alarming the public responsible when the pandemic finally does come and millions upon millions die because we were not ready?

Ya’ll need to get your flu shots.

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