You hear it every year. You should get a flu shot. It’s a good idea to get a flu shot. I always get a flu shot, so no one had to convince me to get one. But this year I learned some things about the flu that make me believe that the flu shot is a necessity, and it’s information that I want to pass on.
I work at a hospital, so I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. John Whitcomb speak at a management meeting this week. Before the meeting, Dr. Whitcomb said to me, “Meghan, I want you to call me after the meeting and tell me if my presentation changed your life. I’m serious. I think I will change your life.”
The purpose of having Dr. Whitcomb speak at our meeting was to begin our annual campaign to get hospital employees to get the flu shot. It’s a struggle every year, and we are always looking for new ways to get the message out. Dr. Whitcomb’s presentation not only made the case for why people should get a flu shot, he made a made a convincing case for how refusing to get the flu shot could put your life and the lives of others in danger.
I know what you’re thinking. “The flu? My life in danger? Seriously?” Read on.
Here is where I draw upon Dr. Whitcomb’s wisdom. First of all, influenza is a nasty little virus. Within ten hours of being exposed to the virus you can spread it to someone else. That’s how quickly the bastard can duplicate itself. Say someone sneezed on their way into a coffee shop and didn’t wash their hands before touching the doorknob. On your way to work, you stop there to pick up some coffee and touch that doorknob, and without realizing it, infect yourself. Before you get home that night, your body is already capable of spreading the virus.
Every infected cell in our bodies can excrete up to a million viral particles, which we excrete through our bodily fluids, like every time we cough or sneeze. When start to feel sick from the virus, that’s the point when our bodies are fighting the disease.
Now let’s address some common objections to getting the flu shot.
I never get sick.
Just because you don’t get sick or “feel sick” doesn’t mean you can’t spread the flu. Maybe you thought you had a cold, when in fact it was the flu.
Doesn’t the flu shot make you sick?
No. Urban myth. According to Dr. Whitcomb, if you get a reaction to the flu shot it is just an indication of how much your body needed that vaccine.
Isn’t it just old people who die from the flu?
The elderly are definitely more susceptible to getting severe cases of the flu, but risks can be high for younger adults too. Many adults don’t realize they have more than “cold.” Often in midlife, flu symptoms include fever, extreme fatigue, a dry cough, headache, backache and/or muscle aches. Not every person will experience every symptom. Young, healthy people may not feel ill, but research suggests that college students who get immunized, for example, have fewer colds for which they miss class.
Now get this. Many of those who died during the 1918 flu pandemic were young adults between the ages of 18 to 26. These were young people who had never had the flu before and their immune systems were not prepared. Many of them died because their lungs filled with fluid–they drowned.
I hate needles.
Fine. Instead of your annual flu shot, get the flu mist instead.
I’ve been told that I can still get the flu after being vaccinated, so what’s the point?
This is true. The flu vaccine does not prevent you from getting the flu. You can still get it. But getting your flu shot can prepare your immune system. It’s like getting it ready. It jump-starts your immune system so that your body can recognize the virus. This can help to reduce the severity, impact and length of the illness. Having a personal library of response to the flu virus could just save your life someday.
Most of the people who read this blog will be too young to have experienced a flu pandemic in their lives. But you may have heard people talk about a new flu pandemic. They are referring to a worldwide outbreak of an avian type of flu or ‘bird flu.’ According to Dr. Whitcomb, the avian flu will come to Milwaukee someday–it’s not a question of if, but when. Reports indicate that in Asia, the avian flu is killing over 50 percent of those who get it. To put that in perspective, the flu pandemic that occurred in 1918 only killed about 2.5 percent of those who got it. Still, between 20 and 50 million people died. We also had a pandemic in 1968. At that time, roughly two to three million people died.
As someone who works in health care, I feel that it’s my ethical obligation to get a flu shot. Dr. Whitcomb convinced me of this. Incredibly sick people come to my hospital for care when they are most vulnerable. I will not be the one to put their lives at risk by leaving myself susceptible and more likely to spread around the flu virus.
For those of you who don’t work in health care, I urge you to consider your family, friends and the strangers you could infect without even knowing you’re sick. And do it for yourself–the more you can build up your immune system against the flu virus, the better off you are.