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, announced
that the H1N1
flu pandemic has been driving a surge in bacterial pneumonia, especially
those due to a germ called pneumococcus. Importantly, the reports indicate that
relatively younger Americans – ages 25-49 years old – are being most affected
by the pneumonias. More
reassuringly, she reported that the studies of side effects following H1N1
vaccine do not indicate any unexpected adverse effects.
This has been a difficult season for many Americans as they
tried to figure out what to do about the flu. Many friends have called and emailed me with a lot of
legitimate questions about the risk of the disease vs. the risks and benefits
of the flu vaccine. These are
smart people but they are struggling to figure out if the flu is really
something to fear or if it is just “media hype”. Add to that a vaccine that has come fairly late in the
season but was produced at a record pace and you have legitimate questions
about the vaccine’s safety.
Also, Americans are getting information from everywhere
these days. Consider for a moment
that fellow Huffington Post blogger Bill Maher’s column on flu and the vaccine
was shared more than 1100 times on Facebook and you can see how people can
struggle 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 to
go on was information from pandemics of nearly 100 years ago and some limited
information from Mexico. With this
information, she and her colleagues had to make recommendations, set
priorities, 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 was
projected. In fact, this
blog called pneumococcal vaccination the “low hanging fruit of pandemic
So, maybe the news today will help people to consider the
balance and in retrospect, illustrate why the CDC has been worried about this
virus all along. The flu is
driving up the incidence of a serious, life-threatening secondary
infection. These infections are
affecting 25-49 year old, not just the elderly or young babies, a sign that
this can still pack a punch.
Finally, the surveys of adverse events are reassuring that the vaccine
is not causing anything unexpected.
If you do and want to protect your family and yourself, here’s some of what you can do about
it. Get the vaccine. Wash your hands often with soap and
water, or an alcohol-based wash if soap is unavailable. Stay home when you’re
ill and avoid exposure to other sick people. Get to know the symptoms of more serious pneumonia and seek
medical attention immediately.
At the end of the day we all have to judge the facts for
ourselves. For me and my family,
we chose the vaccine for our kids and us.