October 14, 2014

Public Health and Getting Vaccinations to Protect Others

About two months ago, someone (shout out who you are; I’m so sorry I forgot!) recommended a pretty timely book to me: The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus. I read it back when Ebola was sweeping across Africa pretty dreadfully, but before anyone had brought it to the US. Now, it’s really scary to see that two patients have come down with it in Dallas, right where I used to work for so long, and at the same hospital where I went for a consultation on my slipped disc last summer! That hits pretty close to home.

Grand Junction Palisade Peach Cinnamon Rolls
I tried to read the book at a coffee shop while enjoying one of these… but fair warning, the descriptions of Ebola will make your stomach turn. Don’t read it while eating.

When I did get through the book, though, it was really interesting to learn about what Ebola can/can’t do and exactly how it’s spread. The Hot Zone had kind of the tone of a futuristic science fiction book, a la Divergent or The Hunger Games, though of course has much more scientific basis to it. Because what I am having trouble getting over most is the fact that… this is completely real. As someone in the Amazon reviews says, “I wish it was a fiction horror book. It’s not fiction.” (Although it should be noted that some facts in the book are dated, and we know more about Ebola/Marburg now than we did when these events were taking place.) Thousands have already died from Ebola on another continent, and I think it’s foolhardy to think that there won’t be any effects here in the US – we aren’t as isolated as we sometimes like to think.

I have to admit, I’m a little relieved that I’m not traveling much these days! I know that most sources are saying that Ebola is not airborne, but… The Hot Zone indicates otherwise. I was starting to wonder if that was just of the information that was outdated, but this New York Times article helped clear up that theory. While the WHO and CDC contend that Ebola isn’t transmitted through the air, there is actually a lot of debate on the validity of those statements – and more importantly, whether the virus could mutate and become airborne in the future, even if it isn’t now. I don’t think that it’s time to panic, but I do think it’s a good idea to educate yourself about the virus. The Hot Zone is a great wealth of knowledge to understand the history and also understand why scientists seem so much more freaked out by Ebola than by other potential pandemics like the avian bird flu from 2006.

While my cutback in traveling is completely work-related and not because I’m scared enough of Ebola to change my plans, I am consciously doing one thing differently when it comes to virus protection: getting my regular old flu shot. The flu is obviously far less deadly than Ebola/Marburg, and yet it does kill people every single year. I’ve never gotten a flu shot before, but it’s always been for the following not-so-great reasons:

  • Not having the time to go get it done
  • Not liking needles (you know, unlike everyone else who loves them)
  • Figuring that even if I did get the flu, it would just mean a few days in bed with an ample supply of chicken noodle soup. Sure, not fun, but really not all that terrible

Then I read Amber of GoKaleo’s awesome post, Why I Chose the Flu Shot… and all those reasons went out the window. The short version (which Amber explains much better… go read it) is that vaccines aren’t so much meant to protect you as they are meant to protect the general population. There are some people who can’t get flu shots for health reasons or financial reasons, but if we can reduce the number of eligible hosts for the flu virus, the virus will die out and everyone wins.

Let’s face it: my previous reasons for not getting the flu vaccine were pretty dumb, and they were all about me. But when the argument becomes about what it means to everyone else, all my internal arguments go away, and I stepped up pretty quickly to get the flu vaccine on Friday. It didn’t hurt even half as much as the vaccines I remembered from my youth, and while my arm did stay kind of sore all weekend, it wasn’t really any worse than DOMS from lifting. I’m really glad that I chose to get the flu vaccine this year, and I plan to do so going forward.

Thoughts? Do you get the flu vaccine annually?


8 thoughts on “Public Health and Getting Vaccinations to Protect Others”

  1. Um… yes, yes and yes. I get so irritated with the people that decide not to vaccinate their kids. Unfortunately, they are not hurting themselves (hopefully), but they are hurting everyone else who has a compromised immune system and/or cannot receive vaccinations themselves. When the time comes for me to have kids, I’m going to be one of those anal, mean parents that won’t let you come near my baby unless you’re up-to-date on allllll of your shots. Germs are scary and Ebola is just proving that point this year. On a happier note, I just dropped something in the mail for you 🙂 Look for it by the end of this week/early next week!

    1. I honestly had NEVER thought about how it affected everyone else, but now I am going to make sure to be diligent about it going forward! Though I am chuckling at the thought of someone coming up to your baby in a public place just to play with him/her and you being all, “excuse me, have you had your shots? Otherwise, stay away!” 🙂

  2. I got it every year as a child, but once out on my own, it fell as a priority and I didn’t get it every year. That changed two years ago when my husband and I both came down with a pretty nasty strain and we both out of commission for a week. Ever since that awful experience, we are both religious about getting it in the early fall.

  3. I get the flu shot every year. My work offers it on-site for free. We are a production facility that functions 24/7 and they feel that the cost of offering it to those willing to get it greatly offsets the time off that people would take if they are sick. The rest of my family has taken your path in prior years and I am always the one well enough to take care of them when they get sick. Also…..never underestimate the power of soap. Washing hands before eating and lysol on the often touched areas (door knobs and tv remotes) has kept me from being sick for years!!! (knock on wood). A little bit of discomfort now can save a lot of misery later!

    1. GREAT points about handwashing! I like to get yummy-smelling soaps at home for extra incentive to use them the full 30 seconds 🙂

  4. Great post on the flu shot — I’m pro vaccination myself!

    I did want to comment and say that the science community has really rejected The Hot Zone as containing real Ebola facts. It’s widely regarded as being inflammatory and fear-mongering without a ton of science to back it up (especially now that its years after its publication). Although I’m still there’s still some good information in it — just a head’s up.

    1. Annie, thanks for letting me know – I had no idea! That makes me feel a lot better since it definitely did make me kind of scared 🙂

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