Going Viral By Choice

It’s time to roll up our sleeves. The 2010 flu season rapidly approaches and the flu vaccine is becoming available. The vaccine remains highly recommended for everyone six years of age and older (unless you’re allergic to eggs, or have had a serious neurological condition known as Guillain-Barré). The design of this year’s vaccine should make it effective against three major strains of the flu virus, including the H1N1 virus (swine flu).

We’re making an effort to have healthy adults step up and receive the flu vaccine each year. However, health professionals still hear patients state, “I’ve never taken the flu shot and I’ve never been sick” or “I took the flu shot once and it made me sick, so I’ll never take another one.” Let’s take each of these arguments in turn. If you’ve never had the flu vaccine and remained well, then you’ve never had viral influenza—because if you had, you would run, not walk, to your nearest immunization center or physicians office.

The flu strikes without warning, causing high fevers (typically 101 degrees or higher), severe aching joints and muscles, pounding headache, dry relentless cough and copious sinus/nasal drainage. If it’s the swine flu you may also add insult to injury with vomiting and diarrhea. You’ll swear you’ll have to die to feel better. Become severely dehydrated by all these symptoms and you may end up in the hospital, or at least the emergency room, for intravenous fluids. Recovery is slow and you may not feel back to some semblance of your normal self for weeks. Unfortunately, having the flu before doesn’t give you life-long immunity; you stay susceptible for the next different flu strain to come along. By not taking the flu vaccine you are essentially rolling the dice and gambling you won’t come into contact with a virus that has shown the ability to reach epidemic proportions.

How about those that had the vaccine and then became ill? It’s possible to have soreness at the injection site for a couple of days, maybe even a slight (low-grade) fever. This is what many of us mistake as coming down with flu. However, it’s NOT possible to get the flu from the vaccine. The virus is inactivated—meaning dead. Over a few weeks our body generates antibodies to the dead virus allowing us to fight off the live virus. The seasonal vaccine can only protect against a few strains of influenza, not the universe of flu germs, so it’s still possible to fall ill from a new strain. That’s the reason we need to receive the vaccine each year

Finally, if all of us become vaccinated we may all benefit from “herd immunity.” By immunizing the herd (us) we become less susceptible to passing the virus along to others that may already be weak or ill, effectively containing or preventing an epidemic. By getting the shot, you’re helping your friends and loved ones remain well. No better reason for rolling up our sleeves this year and get what’s coming to us.

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About Steve P. Sanders

A general internist writing and sharing ideas and art.

One Response to “Going Viral By Choice”

  1. Keep up the good work, I like your writing.

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