Jackie Mason | October 19, 2004
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Anna Gregoline | October 19, 2004
I don't get it either, Jackie. The flu rarely causes many problems besides staying home a day or two from work. Why are normal, healthy people getting flu shots? It's usually not even the right strain, or the strain mutates mid-season. Sure, I'll pay $20 to get a shot of virus that might make me sick and might prevent me from getting sick from a virus that might not have made me sick to begin with?!

Hysteria, plain and simple.

Lori Lancaster | October 19, 2004
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Todd Brotsch | October 19, 2004
Odd how everyone saying that they don't understand the problem is in a healthy age group that dosen't have much to fear from the flu.

Maybe if you were ninety something it'd make more of a difference.

Anna Gregoline | October 19, 2004
But if you read what we said, I think we understand the problem perfectly well. We're talking about healthy young people getting flu shots, not the people who need them.

Kris Weberg | October 19, 2004
The flu is nothing to worry about. It's not like a particularly vicious strain of it killed millions worldwide within the last century or anything, or that it's viral and therefore can't be treated except by vaccines.....

No, wait, those things are true. Damn.

Lori Lancaster | October 19, 2004
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Anna Gregoline | October 19, 2004
But how do flu shots help? They seem to me, if anything, to cause more problems then they do solutions to possible flu epidemics.

Todd Brotsch | October 19, 2004
You've got to be kidding me.......

Polio's something we shouldn't immunize for either, I mean, people don't get it anymore....why bother?

Diptheria and Tetnus too, while we're at it lets junk mumps and rubella too.

Jackie Mason | October 19, 2004
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Todd Brotsch | October 19, 2004
You never had Polio or Diptheria because you were immunized against them (pretty sure anyway.) Every child is vaccinated agains these before school. tetnus is from rusty metal, you're immunized against that too.

Eliminating polio was the gratest humanitarian wellness project ever done.

Anna Gregoline | October 19, 2004
But her point is a good one - flu rarely kills, it only kills the old and infirm and young. They are the ones who should get flu shots. Not healthy young adults.

All those other diseases are crippling - and strike indescriminately.

You can't tell me that people are afraid of getting the flu with the same fear as these other much more horrible diseases.

Steve West | October 19, 2004
"It's Hard to Get a Flu Shot"
Sung to the tune "Big Shot" by Billy Joel
Ahem -

It's hard to get a flu shot, isn't it?
Supplies are short both north and south.

It's hard to get a flu shot, isn't it?
All the hospitals are out.

They gave away the last shot, last night.
Not enough drugs to go around.

It's hard to get a flu shot,
It's hard to get a flu shot.

Kris Weberg | October 19, 2004
Anna -- Flu has and could again kill by the millions. All it takes is a viral mutation, and viruses mutate all the time. Flu is one of the worst for this, since it is transmitted very easily and rapidly, and mutates with concomitant rapidity. A strain of flu killed somewhere between 30 and 50 milion people as recently as 1919, half a million of them Americans -- this in a period of less rapid travel, and of isolationism on America's part. In fact, many believe the "Spanish flu" pandemic of that year may have killed more people than World War I, and in a seventh of the time. That was a little over 80 years ago.

About 36,000 people die each year from influenza today , more than die, at present, from AIDS. Even at the peak of AIDS mortality rates, the average influenza death rate was about 2/3 the same number. "2/3 as deadly as AIDS" doesn't much comfort me. You've got two options witht he flu -- vaccine, and do nothing until you catch it (and invariably spread it).

As to mumps and rubella -- they haven't been eliminated everywhere int he world, and thatnks to the miracle of modern transoceanic transportation, they can easily be reimported. Given that the concequences can be permanent damage to vision and hearing (rubella), or sterility (mumps), I think I rather like being on the safe side.

Kris Weberg | October 19, 2004
While we're at it, mumps in pregnant women has been linked to autism as well. Not something you want to catch.

Amy Austin | October 20, 2004
Wow... more tasty conversation! (One of my favorite childhood memories is of getting highly irritated with my younger sister (by almost 4 years) and her saying, "Don't get *tasty*!" I immediately went hysterical with laughter and have never forgotten it since.)

All those things are indeed true about influenza. But, I have to admit that it doesn't make me any more inclined to get the shot. I never even had one until I joined the Navy at 26... it is requisite for all members to get one each year. However, I think I only got the shot 3 times during my 5 years, thanks to transfers and general military ineptitude. I could be wrong -- you get stuck with needles a WHOLE LOT in the service... it becomes difficult to keep track. Measles, mumps, rubella, yellow fever, PPD (test for tuberculosis exposure) -- ALL that good stuff.

I am particularly grateful that I didn't have to receive an anthrax vaccine... saved by the controversy! And even though I also realize that it is even more deadly than the flu, I am still glad. Same with smallpox. Since my husband is in the medical field, he has had the new smallpox immunization. I think I missed the end of that vaccine by about a year or two... but now it's back. Why? Didn't we eliminate it? Sure. But like Kris said, just because it's "gone" from the US doesn't mean that it's been eradicated from the world... and it could be worse the next time around.

Does knowing *any* of this make me more inclined to get my flu shot? Nope. The only shots I'll be getting are any that may be forced upon me in the future -- by either re-enlistment or an overseas transfer.

Amy Austin | October 20, 2004
Oh yeah, and I meant to congratulate Steve on his fine, fine song-writing abilities... I like penning tunes as well!

Anna Gregoline | October 20, 2004
I talked about flu mutating in the other thread. I'm well aware it's a threat, I read about it all the time. One of my bizarre non-fiction fascinations.

But Kris - does any of your argument pertain to healthy, young, non-pregnant people needing to get the shot?

Amy Austin | October 20, 2004
Anna,

The service is chock-full of just that type of people ("healthy, young, non-pregnant") -- but the importance of it comes from proximity. When you are cooped up in close quarters like that, it is a breeding ground for sickness.

I would say that the level of exposure to other people is the most important factor. Right now, I get almost none. For people who live & work in "the city" and deal with many people on a daily basis, it's probably not a bad idea. Also, someone like Lori -- aside from being pregnant -- as she stated, is more likely to come down with anything by virtue of having kids in school. I don't have any kids -- just a dog.

Anna Gregoline | October 20, 2004
It sure is - does the military give out flu vaccines? I would imagine that IS an environment that would cause concern - but I'm talking general population.

I think that my being exposed to the mass of humanity I encounter on the train actually strengthens my immune system. Being around no exposures would not improve it, that's for sure.

When I first moved to the city, I got 3 or 4 colds in the first winter. After that - I've been smooth sailing as far as colds go, after I got rid of a nasty sinus infection. Flu - never. I attribute my immune system getting used to the higher load of other people/germs around me, and then it adjusted.

I just don't see why people just like me in my firm are rushing to get flu shots - it seems a waste of money at least, and counter-productive at most.

Amy Austin | October 20, 2004
Well, you are (sort of) correct about immunity and exposure. While exposure to germs can and does strengthen resistance, and an isolated community can be wiped out by the introduction of a virus (think decimation of the Islander & Native American populations by colonists) -- obviously, this example proves that you cannot expose your way to immunity against everything. This is why there is more emphasis on vaccination in the service -- the level of exposure is too great.

Yes, they give the shots -- they provide all necessary medical treatment.

Anna Gregoline | October 20, 2004
Hmm, I could comment on that last item, but I won't.

Amy Austin | October 20, 2004
But didn't you just?

Anna Gregoline | October 20, 2004
Yes, I did, but not to go into specifics cause I already have elsewhere and I don't want to get into it.

Kris Weberg | October 20, 2004
Plenty of otherwise healthy young people died in the 1918 pandemic, and not all those who die from it today are elderly or infants. A good chunk of people end up int he hospital from the flu, something like And there's absolutely no reason to believe it wouldn't happen again, and faster. It's one of the two true pandemics of the last hundred years, the otehr being cholera, which didn't come to the United States because it generally relies on compromised water and food sources to spread -- our superior plumbing saved us.

Influenza, though, pretty much ignores such barriers. Generally, there's a day or two of asymptomatic contagiousness in which you can spread the disease without knowing it, and spreading as it does via airborne microdroplets from sneexes, coughs, and plain old breath, it can jump from person to person pretty quickly. The emergence of a deadly flu is pretty much inevitable due to sheer statistical weight -- the stuff moves fast, mutates faster, and tcan hit the far edges of a bell curve in relatively little time.

In fact, according to the World Health Organization, a widespread deadly flu has actually appeared twice within the last 50 years: "The most infamous pandemic was “Spanish Flu” which affected large parts of the world population and is thought to have killed at least 40 million people in 1918-1919. More recently, two other influenza A pandemics occurred in 1957 (“Asian influenza”) and 1968 (“Hong Kong influenza”) and caused significant morbidity and mortality globally."

And the kicker: "In contrast to current influenza epidemics, these pandemics were associated with severe outcomes also among healthy younger persons, albeit not on such a dramatic scale as the 'Spanish flu' where the death rate was highest among healthy young adults." And the fact that they don't know just how the 1918 flu became so virulent isn't exactly a confidence-booster, either.

The epidemiologists at the CDC know what they're doing -- considering all the nasty things they don't vaccinate for these days, I reason that they have good reasons to allocate resources as they have. The United Nations World Health Organization likewise states the inevitability of such a pandemic ont heir public pages. In fact, an outbreak in Madagascar in 2002 killed 800 people within three months. Consider the emergence, last year, of an avian flu that has thus far affected 18 people, killing six of them. Doesn't sound like much, until you realize that's a 33% mortality rate -- the disease's inability to be transmitted directly from human to human stopped it.

Part of the problem, too, is that many people casually misdiagnose minor coliform infections (usually called "food poisoning" or somesuch) or simple rhinoviruses -- the common cold -- as the flu. Neither is usually anywhere nearly as dangerous or as miserable as a full-blown flu, but because we confuse the three, we underrate the genuine article.

"But if it's so inevitable, what's it matter if I get a vaccine," you may ask? Easy -- flu vaccines reduce the morbidity rate by 60% and mortality rates by 70-80%.

You aren't incredibly likely to die of the flu, sure. But a shot in the arm and a day or two of feeling slightly yecchy each year don't seem too much in exchange for a little certainty.

Kris Weberg | October 20, 2004
As to the theory that exposure strengthens the immune system, remember that this nly happens if you actually catch something to start with. If that something is severe, you aren't going to get immunity until you've gone through it, severity and all.

That's whay vaccines use weakened or "dead" viruses to start with -- the full-strength versions confer immunity, too, but only at great cost. Influenza, real influenza, takes a fully healthy person a week or two to recover from, period. Anything milder, according to most sources, isn't influenza -- and exposure to one type of virus, say the cold viruses often confused with the flu, don't confer immunity to another. The body is maddeningly specific in that way, with only closely associated "families" fo viruses, like the very similar variola or "pox' agents, conferring "wider" immunity.

And again, a lot of what you or I grew up calling "the flu" isn't influenza at all, even at the level of symptoms. Flu is a respiratory illness, not a specifically nasal virus or a stomach disorder. Nausea, for example, is generally not considered a flu symptom, though most people associate throwing up with "the flu."

In fact, it's quite the opposite -- your body can only handle so many things at once. Coinfection is a huge problem, for instance, in hepatitis, where one entire strain -- Hepatitis D -- can ONLY occur when Hep B is already present. This is why, among other things, sick people aren't encouraged to get vaccines untilt hey recover. The immune system is too busy with something else to keep even a weakend viral strain at bay.

Amy Austin | October 20, 2004
"Part of the problem, too, is that many people casually misdiagnose minor coliform infections (usually called "food poisoning" or somesuch) or simple rhinoviruses -- the common cold -- as the flu. Neither is usually anywhere nearly as dangerous or as miserable as a full-blown flu, but because we confuse the three, we underrate the genuine article."

Yes, yes, yes. This is precisely true!

Anna Gregoline | October 20, 2004
Kris - you still didn't really answer my question to my satisfaction. Isn't the liklihood that healthy young people like you or me to die from the regular season of flu rather slim?

I'd say it's slimmer than you!

My point is, that if it's a particularly virulent strain that occurs and IS killing people, it's unlikely to be the strain that they are vaccinating for - in fact, they didn't even get last year's strain right, did they?

Kris Weberg | October 20, 2004
Anna -- I actually said 'it's not incredibly likely" that you'll die of the flu, but that vaccination is still worthwhile. The inconvenience of the shot is, to my mind, and apparently the minds of epidemiologists everywhere, minor compared to the possibility of contracting a serious influenza strain.

The vaccination program isn't perfect, but then, neither are airbags or condoms. A person may be a very good driver, or be very selective regarding their sex partners, but most still employ what you can to make things safer.

Put another way, we can't control whether a lethal flu breaks out and spreads rapidly, something we know is very possible even in contemporary times; we can control whether or not we've done what we can to avoid catching it. Deadly or no, I'll take tw days of sneeziness over two weeks of fever and feeling crappy any year, and the added peace of mind helps too.

Anna Gregoline | October 20, 2004
Bah. I still think it's a load of crap.

I'm not ever getting one anyway because it's still possible I am slightly allergic to eggs, and it's recommended I not take it as they use yolk or something in it.

Jackie Mason | October 20, 2004
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Kris Weberg | October 21, 2004
The flu doesn't mutate due to vaccinations, exactly, but there should be a kind of indirect correlation -- there are three major flu strains, with variations in intensity and fatality rate, and you can really only be vaccinated for one per season. Hence, the other two spread and mutate faster. THere is a very slim outside chace of a virus mutating so much as to be unrecignizable to post-vaccinal antibodies, but this is not a responjse ot those antibodies so much as random bad luck of the genetic draw.

Disclosure time: I've never gotten a flu vaccination myself, and liek Anna, I find the risks and cost less more annoying than the risks of the real deal. But playing devil's advocate was a good way to get the statistics out, and it is still true that the 'flu is a ot worse than any of us give it credit for.

Amy Austin | October 21, 2004
Yes, I totally agree with your position -- and I, for one, am happy that you pointed out the things you did about influenza... you are definitely right about too many people thinking they've had it and that it was nothing, when in reality it was just a minor cold/GI thing.

Scott Hardie | October 21, 2004
Happy to say I've never had it, the flu or the flu shot. I'm glad people take steps to prepare themselves, but there's no need for the media to hype it and whip people into a frenzy over a shortage of vaccinations. But that goes back to my anger at media hype over other trendy diseases that almost nobody gets.

Kris Weberg | October 21, 2004
Sort of makes you long for the days of consumption and the gout, doesn't it?

Anna Gregoline | October 21, 2004
How many people do you think now get the flu shot, get the flu later in the season, and then don't think they actually got the flu, because of said flu shot?


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