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Editorial

Avoid unlucky lottery: Get a flu shot

Call it the Unhealthy Lottery.

Imagine that you’re sitting at work, at a table with 10 other adults. Because 32.5 percent of Hoosiers age 18 to 64 have been vaccinated against the flu, it’s likely that at least three people at your table are not carrying the virus.

Your odds would be better in Massachusetts, where 48.5 percent of 18- to 64-year-olds have been vaccinated, and considerably worse in Florida, where only 22.6 percent of that age group received the shot.

Those latest figures, for 2012-13, were compiled by the Trust for America’s Health, based on figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Indiana ranked 41st, but only 12 states had vaccinated more than 40 percent of their 18-64s.

This is particularly bad news in view of reports that most of this year’s flu is H1N1 – swine flu, the same strain that in 2009 killed as many as 37,000 Americans – and that it is proving most virulent in young and middle-aged adults, including pregnant women.

There are a number of common-sense things you can do to prevent getting or spreading the virus; all of them are listed at fighttheflu.org.

But Dr. Deb McMahan, Allen County health commissioner, knows good health habits alone are not enough. Getting people immunized is the key. “How many times can you wash your hands?” she asked rhetorically.

Numbers have been better in past years. But many adults have this strange reluctance to keep up with annual immunizations, which is sort of like declining to take a shower because you had one last week.

McMahan calls it “vaccine fatigue.” Too bad there’s not a shot for that.

“I don’t know why we have such apathy,” she said last week, “when shots are so easy to get.”

People in Indiana are already dying of this season’s flu. Younger, otherwise healthy people are losing this unlucky lottery, felled as though they had been struck by lightning.

The sheer number of cases isn’t so high. “What is remarkable are the cases of flu in healthy people between the ages of 22 and 55,” Dr. Scott Stienecker, wrote in an email to The Journal Gazette Thursday. “We have about six patients in the ICU right now (and another two that are getting tested.)” These are, he wrote, “healthy people that are devastated.”

Stienecker, Parkview’s Medical Director for Epidemiology and Infection Prevention, continued: “Others have been sent to Ann Arbor and other teaching hospitals for treatment not available here. They end up on the ventilator for weeks to a month, and then have to learn how to walk again.

“Can you imagine,” the epidemiologist asked, being “out of work for eight weeks just because you did (not) want to get a shot? Or just because you are too busy?”

Surely those six out of 10 people sitting at your table haven’t considered that.

Perhaps some of them fear that vaccinations themselves will give you the flu. This, of course, is poppycock. “It’s a dead virus,” McMahan said. “You may feel some effects, but it’s your body responding to the dead virus.

“Vaccines do not cause autism,” she continued. “They’re very safe. They are studied more than any (other) drugs are,” she said, urging skeptics to view data continually collected by the federal government through the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, vaers.hhs.gov. “You should be very confident about vaccines.”

Pregnant women may shun the shot because they fear it will harm their baby. That doesn’t happen, Stienecker said Friday. The truth is, “your death (from the flu) is going to be bad for the baby.” Stienecker said he has seen cases where a mother-to-be gets the flu and neither she nor the baby survives.

You’ve heard the other big excuse: “I just don’t get the flu.”

McMahan has the answer for that one, too.

“Just because you haven’t gotten hit by a car doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look before you cross the street.”

It’s not too late. The flu season will peak next month. Get the shot.

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