It’s that cold and dreary time of year — the perfect time for the flu to strike, and for the media to seize the opportunity to scare us into buying excessive amounts of hand sanitizer.
Every few years there is a dramatic outbreak of influenza. In recent years we can recall the bird flu and H1N1, also known as swine flu. Highly contagious, the flu is something we try to avoid — well — like the plague. This year, judging from CDC reports and media frenzy, seems to be one of those years.
Awareness about the flu is extremely important in regard to public health. The elderly and the young are most at risk and should prepare accordingly. No one likes to get sick. It disrupts our busy, fast-paced 21st century lives, so it is reasonable that we want to know about the threat the flu poses for us.
However, it is also important to keep things in perspective. If we’re going to get sick, it’s going to happen and won’t be avoided by bathing in Purell. If you do get sick and you are normally healthy ... then be sick! The most bothersome thing is when a coworker or classmate arrives in the morning and announces in a nasally voice, “I have a fever of 102.” No one wants to be around that. Stay home, get rest, and drink fluids. Everyone wins.
In the past weeks in light of the flu outbreak, which peaked much earlier than usual according to the CDC, there has been a run on the bank of flu vaccines. There is a myth that the vaccine arms us against any and all flus. Let me debunk that myth for you. The vaccine effectiveness for the 2011-2012 flu season was about 50%, according to studies by the CDC. While it definitely does not hurt to get vaccinated, it is not a guaranteed measure.
The reason for the rather meager effectiveness rating is that the virus circulating does not always match the virus in the vaccine. It varies from year to year. This year, the vaccine appears to be a better match.
Bloomberg reported that this year’s inoculation makes a person 62% less likely to get sick. To be on the safe side, get vaccinated, but don’t be completely shocked if you find yourself with the sniffles and a sore throat at some point this winter. Even if the vaccination does not prevent sickness entirely, it can make symptoms a lot less severe.
The vaccine does take about two weeks to kick in, so take that for what its worth. In the meantime, wash your hands, get sleep and maintain a healthy lifestyle. These are the oldest tricks in the book, and they’re pretty effective. Most of all, do not WebMD your symptoms and do not glue yourself to the 24 hour news. You will freak yourself out, and no one needs that.