There is a lot of buzz every year about "The Flu Shot." The debate rages every fall, "should I or should I not get the vaccine?" There are more opinions than you could shake a stick at, but I would like to focus on just a couple of the ones I hear all the time, and talk about the risks and benefits of the vaccines to those of us with RA, or if you are caretaker of someone with RA.
Fist lets look at some seldom heard facts about influenza, or The FLU.
- The 1918 flu pandemic killed between 50-100 MILLION people worldwide. It is now considered the greatest medical holocaust in history, killing more people than the black plague did.
- The reason for the 1918 and every pandemic flu event since is simple. Humans travel worldwide every day, flying country to country and mingling with others. It is estimated a virus could circle the globe causing infection worldwide within 72 hours.
- There have been five pandemic episodes of flu in the last century 1918, 1957, 1968, 1977 and 2009.
- The flu shot, is basically made from scientists "best guess" at what form of flu will be prevalent in the coming season.
- Once a pandemic starts, the virus will be identified and it takes up to six months to make a vaccination.
- Most immunosuppressed populations are at higher risk of influenza-associated complications, have a general trend toward impaired antibody responses, but can be safely vaccinated.
We tend to think of the flu and pneumonia as just another cold-type sickness that comes around. Nothing could be further from the truth. Up to 50,000 people in the US die each year from the flu. In 2007, the flu was the 8th leading cause of death in the U.S. The flu is most dangerous to the very young and people over the age of 65. The flu and pneumonia are both very dangerous illnesses, and if you are immunosuppressed as all of us on DMARDS and Biologics are, it can be even more dangerous.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends all children 6 months to 4 years and anyone over the age of 50 to receive the vaccination for flu, also anyone in a nursing home, healthcare workers and people with immunosuppression from either medication or disease. Everyone of my five doctors agreed that I HAD to have the vaccine (I do get it every year) and people I am regularly in contact with over the flu season should have it as well. The pneumonia vaccine falls into the same category for me, except it is only necessary every four years. That is MORE than enough of a hint for me that I, and anyone with RA taking RA meds SHOULD have the dead vaccines. (the dead vaccine is the shot, the live one is an inhalant) My wife gets it as well, mainly due to me, if she were to bring the flu home, chances are I could get it as well. The flu vaccine this year is around 62 percent effective, which is a very good number, but does NOT mean you cannot get the flu.
In reality, one of your best defenses against both the flu and viral pneumonia is STAYING home! I actually have a few newspapers from 1918, page after page involves big blocks warning people to stay indoors, especially if you are ill. The more you mingle with others, the higher your chances of getting the flu. Of course it is not possible to stay indoors away from everyone for months on end. Life demands we go to the store, family events, doctors appts, etc. So what can you do? NUMBER 1....... GET THE VACCINE! Once you are vaccinated, you can carry hand sanitizer, wear a surgical type mask, and be aware of who is around you. If you are at the store and someone is hacking up a lung in aisle two...... don't go down aisle two! If aisle three has three kids running amok wiping noses on their hands and sleeves....... don't go down aisle three! (get the picture?) Use hand sanitizer on shopping cart handles, menus, etc. Be aware and keep yourself safe. By watching out for yourself you can cut your chances of becoming another statistic by 50 percent!