Lessons from the Flu

As flu season approaches each year, adshrfal like up to receive a vaccine—and many others don't. Photo by CT Senate Democrats, used under Creative Commons licensing.

Just the other day I sat politely as a graduate student at a local university gave her Toastmaster’s speech about the dangers of influenza vaccine. When I critiqued her speech, I refrained from inserting my opinion of the content, sticking to her delivery even as a little round band-aid still clung to my upper arm—a reminder of the flu vaccine I’d received earlier that day. This year, I’d almost forgotten about the vaccine controversy, swamped out as it was by news of Ebola. To date, Ebola virus has infected well over 13,000 and killed nearly 5,000. Even as medical scientists scramble to develop a vaccine, I wonder if and when any controversy will arise over that. Perhaps, given the mortality rate, it won’t.

But flu vaccine is particularly tricky. Often the flu is an inconvenience to be weathered, a challenge that can be beaten back by a healthy immune system, so why, ask many (ranging from naturopaths to practitioners of Western medicine to my compatriots at the local coffee shop), tinker with nature? While the outcome may well be a week in bed for most, it certainly is not for all of us. Each year the flu kills tens of thousands of people worldwide. According to the Center for Disease Control in the United States that number ranges from 3,000 to 47,000 depending on the strain. In a really bad year, an epidemic year like 2009 when H1N1 raged, influenza virus can infect millions worldwide and kill hundreds of thousands. In 1918 influenza killed millions. And too often it is our most vulnerable who are at risk: the very young, the old, and those with asthma, weakened immune systems, and other preexisting conditions….for more go here.

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