Editorial: Vaccines keep flu from going viral

October 13, 2018

When we think of the flu, we think of something that keeps you off your feet for a couple of days. You might miss a day or two of work. A nagging cough. Aches and pains.

We treat it with a trip to the drug store. A box of this, a bottle of that. Plenty of fluids. Chicken soup, maybe.

But we underestimate the flu. We call it by its short and sweet nickname, not its scarier long form, influenza. We need to remember what it really is.

Influenza is the thief that steals the lives of children and the elderly. It brutalizes people with compromised immune systems.

Influenza has the silver medal in mass deaths, with the 1918 pandemic that covered every inhabited continent and killed between 50 million and 100 million people. Only the Black Death that wiped out a third of Europe over a 13-year stint in the 14th century eclipsed it. But for a single year, the plague didn’t come close.

Influenza isn’t like smallpox, a deadly beast that only lives in test tubes under lock and key. Despite all the over-the-counter medications, it isn’t that easily contained.

According to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control in Atlanta, at the peak of the flu season in January and February 2018, about 11 percent of deaths in the United States were due to influenza and its frequent companion, pneumonia. In Pennsylvania, that topped out at 9.5 percent. Overall, about 80,000 people died of the flu last season.

They didn’t have to die.

By letting it become a simple annoyance, a synonym for the common cold or feeling under the weather, we have ignored its lethality, and that makes it easy to dismiss the simple preventative of a flu shot.

Available at every doctor’s office and many grocery stores and pharmacies, the vaccine is quick. It’s a shot, which no one enjoys, but it’s also not as bad as the disease.

And it can keep you alive. It can keep your family alive. It can keep your kids alive. If you want proof of the effectiveness of the vaccine, you only need to look at those death tolls from last year. The vaccine usually provides up to 60 percent protection against the viruses spinning wildly in the population.

In 2017, the vaccine was only 36 percent effective, contributing to a sharp spike in flu numbers. The CDC still pushed people to get it, and the math adds up. A 1 in 3 chance that you won’t get the flu is better than a 3 in 3 chance that you will.

Influenza doesn’t care about theoretical arguments or hot debate about vaccines. Influenza doesn’t care about anything except spreading to more people.

More people, more coughing, more spreading, more deaths.

Don’t let it happen. It’s not worth the risk. Don’t let the the flu go viral this year.

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