As of writing this article I am presently recovering from THE FLU, and I mean the flu not a cold. I am sure I have had the flu before in my life but to tell you the truth I do not recall such a profound experience. After the first few days of suffering I found myself googling influenza to learn more and about this infectious disease. I was also thinking about the fact that I did not get my flu shot this year and I have in past years. I wondered if that is why I go the flu or would I have gotten anyways?
In 1918 influenza virus caused a pandemic that killed about 50 to 100 million people in about a year’s time worldwide, making it the largest human disaster known. Influenza viruses weren’t known to exist in 1918, so there is no direct information about the virus and it is still a big medical mystery that is to this day being studied. Now we understand that the influenza viruses are known to circulate continuously and they cause small outbreaks every winter. And with great regularity, new forms of the virus arise in the population and spread throughout the world very quickly and with modern modes of transportation travel is faster than ever. The influenza virus is very clever, like a chameleon they can change their coats, so that what was going around last year is not the same as this year. These mutations tend to be sort of slow and steady but occasionally there can be a dramatic change that occurs in which an entirely new kind of influenza virus emerges. It is termed a recombinant, which is a mixture of genes of two different influenza viruses and it would be so different that no one on earth would have any kind of immunity and would be allowed to spread like wildfire throughout the population. Presumably this scenario for a pandemic, and there have been four them in the last one hundred years, 1918, 1957, 1968 and in 2009 the Swine Flu epidemic.
The good news is we are in much better off than we were in 1918. Research and technology has made it so we can keep a close eye on world health. Health care has come a long way as well as drugs that inhibit virus replication. We also now have (since the early 1930s), created a vaccine, which currently is the greatest weapon we have against the influenza virus.
The first documented idea of vaccinations was in 1721 with the introduction of an inoculation (placing a small amount of a substance to boost immune response), during the smallpox epidemic. There has been overwhelming success from large-scale vaccination campaigns. Smallpox which once killed one in 7 children, polio is nearly eradicated and a number of other less known diseases like meningitis. There are influenza surveillance centers around the world monitoring the influenza strains for trends year-round. This data is collected and new mutations are identified. The World- Health Organization (WHO) is then responsible for selecting three strains that they believe will continue to circulate and from this point the development and production of the vaccine begins. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states: “an annual seasonal flu vaccine is the best way to reduce the chances that you will get the seasonal flue and spread it to others.” Flu vaccines cause antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after vaccination. These antibodies provide protection against infections with the viruses that are in the vaccine.
There has been strong disagreement every since vaccinations began in the 18th century. The first arguments against this practice of inoculations was religious based, many argued that diseases are sent by God to punish sin and that any attempt to prevent was seen as a “diabolical operation”. Now many sectors of the population present a worthy argument against the vaccine. Reasons vary from it being dangerous, non-effective and there is the position of individual liberty.
Unfortunately there are studies that show the performance of the vaccine in healthy adults is not producing the kind of results that the WHO and CDC hopes for but even with marginal results the public health organizations continue to push for widespread influenza vaccinations as the most effective means of prevention. The debate will go on for years, so it comes down for each of us to make up our own mind about whether to get that shot – or not.
Janice B Gaines BS LMT