I’ve been following the conversations of many of my friends on Twitter about the H1N1 Influenza vaccine, and whether or not you should get vaccinated. While I admit that initially I was in the same boat as them, I’ve now decided to get the vaccine. My decision was not easy, so I thought I would share (in a two-post series) the information I gathered to make my decision with you so you can make an informed decision too on this the eve of the release of the vaccine in Canada.
The symptoms of the HIN1 virus are very similar to those of seasonal flu. Some of them are:
- Sore Throat
- Body aches
How is the H1N1 Swine Flu Virus Different from Seasonal Flu Virus?
They are both influenza A, but seasonal flu and H1N1 are different strains. The seasonal flu is actually comprised of several different strains of flu. The H1N1 flu strain is a novel one. Most people are not resistant to the swine flu virus and seasonal flu vaccines are not effective to fight swine flu. The seasonal flu, by definition, is a virus that’s been around before, so you have an ongoing immunity in the community that prevents widespread transmission. With H1N1 there is no immunity – this is a new virus.
The swine flu is not different from the seasonal flu in terms of its symptoms, but in the strain of the virus causing the flu. It has been determined that the swine flu virus affects people 25 years old and younger, more severely than older people, which is also different from the way the seasonal flu operates. This means that children are more at risk for getting the swine flu, and they will also become more severely ill from it – leaving them more susceptible to other "attackers" (staph infections, pneumonia, etc.).
Why is the H1N1 Swine Flu Virus More Dangerous than the Seasonal Flu Virus?
- This strain is a variant of the one that caused the Spanish Flu: H1N1
- A strong immune response to the H1N1 virus (the kind, for example, that people in their 20s and 30s have) is actually the cause leading to cytokine storms. Here’s a vivid description of said phenomenon from the description of the 1918 Spanish Flu outbreak: "One of the most striking of the complications was hemorrhage from mucous membranes, especially from the nose, stomach, and intestine. Bleeding from the ears and petechial hemorrhages in the skin also occurred." The majority of deaths were from bacterial pneumonia, a secondary infection caused by influenza, but the virus also killed people directly, causing massive hemorrhages and edema in the lung." . This means that a healthy immune system is a liability rather than an asset.
How Does My Decision Affect Others?
Vaccinations are generally considered to be the most effective and cost-effective method of preventing infectious diseases. They are not done to keep YOU from getting a virus, they are done to prevent the spread of a virus. While YOU may be able to fight off the infection, the people you infect may not be so fortunate. Because there is no immunity to H1N1, the potential to spread H1N1 swine flu is far greater. I have one family member currently with a compromised immune system because she is undergoing chemotherapy treatment, and two other family members who have just been diagnosed with cancer and will potentially undergo chemotherapy treatment this flu season. These family members are at high risk of being unable to fight the H1N1 flu – along with my children. I would really hate it if one of my family members died because the flu was spread to them unnecessarily.
The Choice Is Yours
The ultimate decision regarding whether you get the H1N1 Swine Flu vaccine is a personal one, however I want you to remember that your choice can impact others as much as it impacts you – this decision is not just about yourself – it’s also about the community you live in and those that live in it (particularly children).
Stop the Spread and Protect Yourself
With this in mind I also want to share tips on how you can keep yourself healthy, and those around you healthy – whether you get the vaccine or not:
- Good hand hygiene is the best way to prevent the spread of all flu viruses. Wash your hands with soap and water thoroughly and often.
- Keep an alcohol-based hand sanitizer (gel or wipes) handy at work, home and in your car. It needs to be at least 60% alcohol to be effective.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and throw the tissue out. Cough into your upper sleeve if you don’t have a tissue.
- Avoid large crowds of people where viruses can spread easily. Stay home when you are sick.
- Keep common surfaces and items clean and disinfected.
- Get plenty of rest – your body is better prepared to fight infection if you are well rested.