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The Piggy Who Sneezed:
Swine Flu, Vaccines and Flu Shots

By Dr. Peter W. Kujtan, B.Sc., M.D., Ph.D.

Article printed on page 12 in the October 24-25, 2009 issue of
The Mississauga News under the feature: Health, Wellness & Beauty, Medicine Matters.

Even though I am in a Mediterranean flu-free undisclosed location, I can assure you that it is not because of pandemic speculation. If it was, I would just load up on the anti-viral drugs and head for the compound in the woods. After viewing and listening to media reports of this swine flu thing, I can understand the uneasiness and fear. For a few months now, a plethora of quietly whispered questions about the swine flu are being awkwardly asked by nervous patients. We citizens of the first world countries live in the new C.C. World (Computers and Cable). In this world, we have instant access to events around the world at our finger tips but yet, our busy lives result in non-selective force-feeding of certain information repeatedly. Subliminal fear is often the result. The main reason that you worry about the swine flu is that news services think you should, over and over again all day long. Before this pandemic, we spent our days worried about avian flu, Anthrax, SARS, Lyme Disease, Hantavirus, West-Nile Virus, and so on. It is no longer newsworthy to tell you about the ongoing epidemics of tuberculosis and malaria, mostly because they are somewhere else. Here is my version of the rest of the story. Some of these facts may help balance what you hear. The accuracy, much like the virus, will mutate by the time this article is printed.

Influenza has been around for a long time. It is not a scourge released onto mankind by a mad scientist in a secret lab. It is a tiny virus that relies on us for survival. It also uses birds, pigs and seals to help it multiply. Forget about which DNA came from whom. The relevance is not important to mere mortals. Some people will experience severe symptoms, some may even succumb to the illness, but the reality is that over 99.5% or more will survive, as they do every year. The streets will not be full of ravaging zombies.

Influenza mutates, and always has. Influenza refers to hundreds of genetically different viruses. There are dozens floating around at any given time. It is very difficult to chase any given one down with a single vaccine. It is not that the 15 previous flu shots you got don't work any more, it's just that those strains have largely moved on.

This year, there are two vaccines, one was ordered and purchased by our government based on a best guess method used by the World Health Organization (WHO). It was ordered and paid for before the swine flu variation showed up, and this vaccine protects against three different strains. There is also the swine flu variation, which was ordered later. They are two different shots and are given separately. Vaccinating everybody is just one way to approach the problem. Even though the vaccines are quite safe, we haven't had too much luck in using them to eradicate influenza over the last 20 years, yet the programs have eaten up significant portions of our health care budgets, and have greatly augmented may business ventures, directly and indirectly.

Immunizations have emerged on the wave of DNA recombinant technology to become a flourishing and lucrative business. There are places on the American side that do not offer public programs, yet claim to fare just as well. It is difficult to steer a monstrous ocean liner adrift on the sea. For the time being, there should be little question about flu shots, since you have already bought and paid for them. We really don't know who already has had the flu and who hasn't except those few who got tested. For several months over the summer, government labs tested only hospitalized people, so there is an ever growing population with natural immunity. Even if you had the illness, getting a shot is still alright. Difficult decisions face us in the future, not now!

Know your terms. There is no pandemic right now, but there are plenty of flu cases, as there are every year. Most are young people who get a severe 48-hour illness, followed by a cough. The average case, if there is such a thing, will start with a feeling of fatigue, achiness, chills, headache, loss of appetite and perhaps a bit of a sore throat or stomach ache. It gets worse and most of those afflicated resort to a comfortable place to lie down, drink lots of fluids and take analgesics. Within a day or two, cough sets in, but you tend to feel slightly better. Most get better before they make it to the doctor, and develop immunity. You cannot get the same strain twice. The flu medications are reserved for those few who progress to a severe illness. All they do is decrease the severity and duration of illness. Early recognition of more severe cases is the key. Don't hesitate to get checked.

A pandemic refers to a large number of people getting sick at once over a large geographical area and overwhelming the resources. This is "flu season" as it has been for the last 100 years. Adopt good hygienic manners as a permanent courtesy to mankind. Psst, have you heard about tryptomiasis?

Related resources:
Google Flu Shot Locator. On 10 Nov. 2009, Google launched an online tool for tracking down where to get vaccinations against H1N1 and seasonal influenza in the United States.
H1N1 Flu (Swine Flu) Shot Clinics in Canada. Find Clinics for H1N1 Flu Shots by Canadian Province, by Susan Munroe, About.com.
Swine influenza from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
2009 flu pandemic from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Pandemic paranoia: Are fears justified or overblown? by Kathryn Blaze Carlson, National Post, October 23, 2009.
Flu.gov. Flu Shot Locator (seasonal and H1N1) in the United States.
H1N1 Flu (Swine Flu) Shot Clinics in Canada. Find Clinics for H1N1 Flu Shots by Canadian Province.
Vaccination: The Seasonal Flu Vaccine and the H1N1 Flu Vaccine.
H1N1 (Swine) Flu Virus: Facts for Parents (& Expecting).
Swine Flu Update.
Flu Pandemics
A Guide for Individuals and Families: Pandemic Influenza - Get Informed. Be Prepared. From U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Types of Influenza.
History of Pandemics. 1918-1919, The Great Pandemic. 1957-1958. 1968-1969. 2009-2010.

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