Thursday, November 5, 2009
In the past couple of weeks I have had a couple of interesting exchanges regarding both the H1N1 and the seasonal flu, and the idea of being vaccinated against each. During one exchange a friend said to me: "I'm always afraid of getting sick from the vaccine, because I had a family member who got really sick from it once." During another exchange, a family member said to me: "I don't believe in them (vaccines)."
It is illogical, unwarranted, paranoid, delusional, or sometimes just plain misinformed thought processes such as these that help contribute to the spread of flu each year, and that very well could make the current H1N1 'Swine Flu' situation worse than it needs to be. It's flu season, vaccines are safe and effective, and you need to get yourself and your family members vaccinated.
Let's begin by talking about exactly what the 'flu' is and is not. It is a contagious respiratory illness caused by any number of influenza viruses which spread from person-to-person and can cause symptoms ranging from mild to deadly. Here in America, the flu usually breaks out in the fall and lasts into the following spring.
Anyone can get the flu, but kids are particularly vulnerable because their immune systems are not fully developed. Kids also tend to have poorer hygienic habits than adults, and they also can remain contagious for twice or three times as long as adults. This means that they are highly vulnerable to the spread of influenza at schools, day cares, and even just among kids within that same family at home.
Others at increased risk of contracting the flu include senior citizens, infants and toddlers, and anyone with a chronic medical condition such as diabetes, asthma, or any heart or lung disease. Annually more than 200,000 people are hospitalized and about 36,000 people die from flu-related causes. In a typical year, between 5-20% of the population end up contracting the seasonal flu.
Flu symptoms can include fever, coughing, sore throat, running or stuffed nose, head aches, body aches, chills and fatigue. The best prevention for most people is to get vaccinated, and to practice better personal hygiene such as more frequent and thorough washing of the hands with warm, soapy water for 15 seconds, the use of gel hand sanitizers, and the temporary limiting of exposure (i.e. hand-shaking at churches, high-fives at sports events, shared drinks or cigarettes, etc.) Also, you should restrict the touching or rubbing of your eyes, nose, or mouth areas.
Many people get confused as to whether or not they have the flu, or just a common cold. It can be difficult to tell the difference because the symptoms are generally the same. There is, in fact, no way for you to tell on your own. Influenza can only be verified through lab testing. However, with the flu things like fever, body aches, tiredness, and dry cough are often more intense and severe.
People usually fight off colds more easily without much in the way of specific medical treatments. In general, if you have a runny nose, a mild cough, and maybe feel generally 'off' for a couple days then you are probably fighting off a cold and may just require extra rest. If you get knocked on your butt and the symptoms are persisting, you may well have the flu and might require medications as well as rest.
The H1N1 influenza that has been in the news is a highly contagious strain of the flu virus. This is because it is a relatively new strain for which most humans have no built-up immunities. It is commonly referred to as 'Swine Flu', but that has more to do with it's origins than it does with any valid concern over eating pork products. There is a separate vaccine that has been developed and that will need to be received to combat the H1N1 virus.
The vast majority of people who end up contracting H1N1 will experience nothing more than the usual flu symptoms, and also will end up not needing any type of medical treatment beyond what a normal flu would require. However, as with seasonal flu, those in the more highly vulnerable categories such as children and those with chronic medical conditions need to be more careful and may require more treatment.
The warning signs that you or your child have a serious flu situation and need to seek quick professional medical treatment include fast breathing or difficulty breathing, difficulty in waking up, confusion when interacting, children not wanting to be held, and adults with severe or persistent vomiting, chest pains, or abdominal pains.
Currently the medical community is experiencing a shortage of the vaccine to fight the H1N1 influenza virus, and is asking that only those in these more highly vulnerable categories actually request and receive the vaccinations. However, everyone should receive a vaccination for the seasonal flu, and these are readily available at the current time. Many work places make these vaccinations available for free or at reduced costs to their employees. Take advantage of these and other programs to get yourself and your family vaccinated.
Vaccines have proven to be highly safe. Hundreds of millions of Americans have received seasonal flu vaccines over the years with no or mild symptoms. But as with every single medical procedure you ever have or will receive, there are possibilities of problems. Most who do have symptoms only get some soreness, redness, or swelling at the point of vaccination.
Some adolescents have fainted, and some people have headaches or muscle aches, fever, or nausea. Again, these symptoms are infrequent, and usually are gone within a day or two if they happen at all. In the most severe cases there have been noticeable behavioral changes, and some people have faced life-threatening allergic reactions. These will usually come on within minutes or hours, and immediate medical treatment must be sought. But again, these are highly unusual and the odds that you will experience anything more than some redness or swelling are far longer than the odds of you contracting influenza if you go unprotected by the vaccine.
If you do get sick with the flu and develop a fever, stay home until at least 24 hours after the fever has passed. If you have a chronic medical condition, contact your physician for further advice. If your symptoms worsen or persist, get to a doctor, and in the very worst cases to an emergency room, but in no case should you use the E/R as a doctor's office. There is a reason that they call it an 'emergency' room, after all. It should only be utilized for the most critical or unmanageable injuries and illnesses.
The cold and flu season is now fully underway here in the United States. This particular season is expected to be more unpredictable than usual, and there is much bad information out there circulating among the public. The vast majority of people will experience significant health benefits at very minor monetary costs and health risks from both seasonal and H1N1 flu vaccines. If you have any serious questions or concerns, check with your doctor, but everyone should strongly consider getting vaccinated as my wife and I did just two nights ago.