On the busiest travel day of the year in the United States,there was unwelcome and welcome news from the US CDC. On the one hand, Dr. Anne Schuchat of the CDC, announcedthat the H1N1flu pandemic has been driving a surge in bacterial pneumonia, especiallythose due to a germ called pneumococcus. Importantly, the reports indicate thatrelatively younger Americans – ages 25-49 years old – are being most affectedby the pneumonias. Morereassuringly, she reported that the studies of side effects following H1N1vaccine do not indicate any unexpected adverse effects.
This has been a difficult season for many Americans as theytried to figure out what to do about the flu. Many friends have called and emailed me with a lot oflegitimate questions about the risk of the disease vs. the risks and benefitsof the flu vaccine. These aresmart people but they are struggling to figure out if the flu is reallysomething to fear or if it is just “media hype”. Add to that a vaccine that has come fairly late in theseason but was produced at a record pace and you have legitimate questionsabout the vaccine’s safety.
Also, Americans are getting information from everywherethese days. Consider for a momentthat fellow Huffington Post blogger Bill Maher’s column on flu and the vaccinewas shared more than 1100 times on Facebook and you can see how people canstruggle to sort the facts from opinions and to figure out what to do.
It’s useful to remember that when the pandemic started, Dr.Schuchat’s job was pretty hard. There was little experience with this virus so most of what she had togo on was information from pandemics of nearly 100 years ago and some limitedinformation from Mexico. With thisinformation, she and her colleagues had to make recommendations, setpriorities, communicate basic, factual messages to millions of Americans. And in spite of all this uncertainty,in the lead up to this pandemic, an increase in bacterial pneumonias wasprojected. In fact, thisblog called pneumococcal vaccination the “low hanging fruit of pandemicprevention”.
So, maybe the news today will help people to consider thebalance and in retrospect, illustrate why the CDC has been worried about thisvirus all along. The flu isdriving up the incidence of a serious, life-threatening secondaryinfection. These infections areaffecting 25-49 year old, not just the elderly or young babies, a sign thatthis can still pack a punch. Finally, the surveys of adverse events are reassuring that the vaccineis not causing anything unexpected.
If you do and want to protect your family and yourself, here’s some of what you can do aboutit. Get the vaccine. Wash your hands often with soap andwater, or an alcohol-based wash if soap is unavailable. Stay home when you’reill and avoid exposure to other sick people. Get to know the symptoms of more serious pneumonia and seekmedical attention immediately.
At the end of the day we all have to judge the facts forourselves. For me and my family,we chose the vaccine for our kids and us.