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Why Reasonable People Need to Get Flu Shots

Monday, November 22nd, 2010 by Dan Curtin


Have you gotten your flu shot this year? If you haven’t, your excuse is most likely feeble. Influenza is a deadly infectious disease that returns every year, that can cause serious complications, particularly to young children and older adults. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control, the virus kills on average 36,000 Americans annually, a terrible toll—almost as many as die from auto accidents. Flu shots are considered by experts as the most effective way to prevent influenza and its complications. Here are the answers to common questions about flu shots.

This year’s annual flu shot will offer protection against the pandemic H1N1 (swine flu) virus, in addition to two other influenza viruses that are expected to be in circulation this winter. Last year people had to receive a separate flu shot to obtain protection against pandemic H1N1 influenza.

What sort of flu season is expected this year?

Flu seasons are unpredictable in a number of ways. Although epidemics of flu happen every year, the timing, severity, and length of the epidemic depends on many factors, including what influenza viruses are spreading and whether they match the viruses in the vaccine. Last flu season (2009-2010) saw the emergence of the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus (previously called “novel H1N1″ or “swine flu”). This virus caused the first influenza pandemic (global outbreak of disease caused by a new flu virus) in more than 40 years. While not certain, it is likely that 2009 H1N1 viruses will continue to spread along with seasonal viruses in the U.S.during the 2010-2011 flu season. The timing of flu is very unpredictable and can vary from season to season. Flu activity most commonly peaks in the U.S. in January or February. However, seasonal flu activity can occur as late as May.

Will new strains of flu circulate this season?

Flu viruses are constantly changing so it’s not unusual for new flu virus strains to appear each year. For more information about how flu viruses change, visit “How the Flu Virus Can Change.” While not certain, it is likely that 2009 H1N1 viruses and seasonal viruses will cause illness in the U.S. during the 2010-2011 flu season.

“I’m young and healthy,” you might say, “why do I need the shot?”

True, 90 percent of those who die from the flu are 65 and older, and many—but by no means all —have underlying medical conditions that weaken the lungs or heart. It’s not as though any deaths are acceptable, but these people are not the only ones at risk. In one year, five children aged 6 months to 15 years died suddenly from influenza in Colorado and Oklahoma; two children in England and four in Scotland had already died from the same strain that year. No one knows why some healthy children suddenly succumb to influenza. But as the virus spreads further through this country, there will almost certainly be more deaths.

One of those who died in Colorado was 8-year-old Joseph Williams. He had been perfectly healthy before the sudden onset of a stomach ache and fever. His parents took him to the emergency room, figuring he would get treatment and recover quickly, but a brain inflammation brought on by the influenza killed him in hours. The day after Joseph’s death, they held a tearful news conference and begged everyone in the community to get flu shots. If more people had been vaccinated, their child might have never contracted the infection in this first place.

Of the 92.6 million doses of vaccine, 29 people have died.  The math (which has taken me a half dozen tries to get right) comes out to one’s chances of dying from the vaccine as .00000000313 % — meaning — less than 1 in 3 million.

As of November 14, 2009, the CDC estimate 9,260 people have died from getting the H1N1 flu.  These are people who did not get the vaccine.  They also estimate 47 million people have had the H1N1 swine flu.  That figures to a .000197 % chance of dying from the flu — meaning — 1 in 5,075.

Put another way - my chances of dying from the flu are 591% GREATER than dying from the vaccine.

Even if spending a week violently sick and bedridden doesn’t worry you, by immunizing yourself, you vastly lessen the chances you will spread the virus to some child or older person (family member, friend, or stranger) who might die from it.

Most chain and many local drug stores are offering flu shots several times a week or daily at very reasonable cost. That cost is very nothing when compared to the wages lost and suffering you or your family or friends may have in dealing with the flu this season. So even if you do not care that you might save yourself a lot of misery by getting the shot, please understand that you could save someone else’s life.