We all love to fly
…and like to have flown, but hate it when we have the flu. Although the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend vaccination early in the flu season, starting in September, outbreaks can continue well into spring, so if you have not done it yet, consider getting the jab.
I have previously talked about how women tend to be better guardians of their health than men and also tend to be the ones to get the men in their lives to take care of themselves. We all know the jokes about men being wimps when they get sick, but in truth the female immune system is more robust than their menfolk, so they do tend to fight bugs better. I do not advise the fellas out there to tell their non-flying lady friends or wives this factoid – the price will be too awful to consider.
Seasonal flu is a viral disease and the nasty critter that causes it comes in many forms, described by characteristics bearing the letters “H’ and “N” as well as numbers, hence the swine flu from 2009 is “H1N1.” Each year the people in charge determine which are the three likeliest flu bugs to cause trouble and they use these viruses to create a vaccine. For the 2010 – 2011 flu season, courtesy of CDC, the vaccination includes the H1N1 so a separate injection is not required. In the southern hemisphere, different viruses are used.
The word vaccine comes from the Latin for cow, referencing the animal that led to Jenner’s original work to find a way to prevent smallpox. Basically a flu vaccine contains “attenuated” or killed viruses that when injected into the body cause future immunity to the live virus. The patient’s immune system recognizes certain parts of the virus structure and raises antibodies to this specific chemical shape so that the next time a virus that “looks” like that enters the body, it is swamped by antibodies which kill it. For an analogy, think of a hardware store (your immune system) making keys (antibodies) to fit specific locks (antigens, or in other words, parts of the virus). An alternative to the injected vaccine is a mist that is inhaled through the nose. The efficacy of this has been questioned and it is generally reserved for those aged 2 – 49 years of age with a powerful fear of needles. I hate needles myself but detest being laid low by the flu so I grin and bare it and bear my arm for the lady with the evil grin and sharp pointy thing.
An hour or two prior to receiving the vaccine I like to pop an anti-inflammatory or two (something like ibuprofen) on a full stomach to limit the discomfort that may result from an injection – I am a wimp. It is important to discuss with your doctor or clinic administering the shot if you have any allergies to eggs as vaccines use chicken eggs for manufacture and some of the egg antigens can provoke a strong lock-and-key reaction. Of course, if you have had a reaction to a prior flu vaccine you may be better off spending the winter in balmier climes rather than risking a repeat episode. If you have had a nasty condition called Guillain-Barre’ Syndrome (you would know if you have) avoid the vaccination and if you are currently unwell this is not a good time to get vaccinated.
Otherwise, pretty much everyone should have vaccination – the fewer people who are out there to get the flu, the fewer there are to pass it on. So keep flying and keep the flu at bay.
January 13, 2011