Sunday, September 22, 2013

People with a chronic illness are at higher risk for Influenza

The Influenza vaccine has always been under fire.  For some reason the Influenza vaccine has been blamed for numerous maladies and most recently there is information on the Internet that reveals a government plot to "shorten our life span" and to "inject us all with a GPS tracking device".  I can tell you it is all bunk and it seems there is significant paranoia about the Flu vaccine.  That paranoia is a mystery to me.  I have worked many years in health care dedicating time to increase the number of people receiving Flu vaccine.  That effort involved work with the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, GA.  I supported hospital efforts to ensure that as many people as possible received Flu vaccine in my community.  Let me tell you what I know about Influenza and the vaccine that can save lives . . .

Influenza is a deadly viral disease that kills thousands of people around the world every year.  According to the Centers for Disease Control Influenza related deaths have been as high as 49,000 people in the U.S. in a single flu season.  Influenza is a respiratory illness that is accompanied by cough, high fever and severe body aches.  Many people call a simple upper respiratory illness the flu and also believe that GI disturbance with vomiting and diarrhea is the flu.  These illnesses are not the Flu.  Influenza is an airborn organism that cannot survive on inanimate objects for long.  If someone has coughed and you immediately get a droplet on your hand and then you touch your eyes, nose or mouth you can contract the Flu.  The fact that Influenaz is an airborn organism makes it easily transmitted to large numbers of people in a short amount of time.  Influenza mutates easily from year to year so it is able to cause illness in people even though Flu vaccine had been received the previous Flu season.  That's why it is important to get a Flu shot at the beginning of every Flu season.  There can be a number of different Influenza viruses circulating each Flu season.  The 1918 Influenza pandemic killed an estimated 30 to 50 million people worldwide.  The 1918 pandemic was caused by an Influenza virus that was different than others that simply mutate each year.  It is believed the next Influenza pandemic may be coming in the near future.  Influenza is a deadly respiratory illness.  So now that you know what Flu is and what it isn't, let me talk about some of the myths surrounding the Flu.

1918 Influenza Pandemic
Some people believe they have gotten sick after receiving a Flu shot.  Influenza vaccine absolutely cannot make you sick.  The injectable vaccine is a killed virus so it is inactive, and the nasal vaccine is attenuated or weakened so the viral load is too small and too weak to develop into an illness.  That cold you got the day after a Flu shot is simple coincidence.  It takes the common cold about 10 days incubation period to make you sick so you already had that illness when you got the Flu shot.  The other day I heard someone say they don't get a Flu shot because it doesn't protect you from all the Flu bugs that may be circulating in a flu season.  I would have found this logic amusing if it wasn't so self defeating and possibly deadly logic.  It takes 2 weeks to develop immunity after receiving a Flu shot.  The level of immunity to the selected Influenza strains can vary from year to year and may not be as effective in people that are older.  Three strains of Influenza are selected each year for the vaccine based on the likely strains to hit the U.S.  There may be other Flu strains circulating, but the good news is that if you received the Flu vaccine, you have at least some level of protection from contracting those strains and possibly dying in the process.  The whole point of getting a Flu shot is not to prevent you from getting the Flu, but to reduce the effect of the illness so it is milder and so you survive the illness.  Survival is the reason to get Influenza vaccine.  So if you are complaining that you got the Flu even though you had a Flu shot, it's good news.  About the paranoia that the government is trying to shorten our lives with the Flu vaccine . . . if the government wanted to shorten our lives, the government would withhold Flu vaccine and that would certainly do it.  In addition, for some reason or other people become hypervigilant about every ache and pain after receiving a Flu shot and they are always certain the Flu shot is to blame.  The only problem I have gotten from a Flu shot is a little sore upper arm for a day or so and that's it.

Influenza vaccine has caused deaths due to allergic reactions to a component in the vaccine; if you are allergic to any component of the Flu vaccine do not get a Flu shot.  An allergic reaction can be life threatening.  My advice to you is to take extra precautions not to be exposed to Flu during Flu season.  Avoid crowds, especially in the grocery store.  There are lots of sick people shopping for food in grocery stores.  Another thing you can do is encourage the people around you to get Flu vaccine each year.  People that have been vaccinated against Flu will not infect people around them.  And the more people that are vaccinated the more people are protected due to a phenomenon called "herd immunity".  If a certain portion of a population is vaccinated the rest of the population is protected.

In years past people at risk of contracting deadly Influenza were the very old, the very young and people with a chronic illness.  Due to the emergence of H1N1 everyone is now at risk.  I have seen Influenza kill a perfectly healthy 10 year old boy and modern medicine could do nothing to save him, but he would be alive today if he had received a Flu shot.  Influenza is a deadly respiratory disease.  People with Fibromyalgia are at higher risk of not surviving a bout of Influenza, plus if you get sick for the holidays you won't be having much fun!  So, get your Flu shot now.  I have had an annual Flu shot for the past 36 years and have not had a bout of Influenza since I started getting the vaccine.

So that's just a brief introduction to Influenza.  If you want more information, the best resource is the Centers for Disease Control at  The CDC is a wealth of information.  During this Flu season take good care and be well!  Blessings to you!!
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