When discussing the flu, “same old-same old” means over 40,000 people will die in this country of the flu this winter.
That’s as many people as will likely get killed on U.S. highways this year. It would be nice to vaccinate against getting killed in a car crash, wouldn’t it?
This influenza season is a particularly severe one, if present trends hold out. Most of the deaths will occur in the very old or very young, both of which are not easily vaccinated, because they can’t drive or ask for the vaccine. They depend on us able-bodied people, known as “the herd” in public health vernacular.
The herd can dramatically influence the spread of disease like influenza. Part of this herd is the workers at an institution that care for the elderly, the sick or the very young. They pass in and out of the institution every day, sometimes bringing and sometimes taking home unwanted viral baggage.
The flu depends on finding its next susceptible victim to continue its relentless winter march.
We all briefly consider getting a flu shot each winter, according to our own private equation. We consider the media headlines, our health, our experience with the flu vaccine or the flu, and weigh in the cost of the vaccine in time and money.
This may all be largely subconscious, but ultimately pushes us toward or away from the vaccination opportunities. You either stop and do it or drive by. The health care providers of the world are grinding their teeth in frustration trying to influence your decision.
Medical types like to place every illness under the microscope. The Canadians, common sense people that they are, tried a different approach, looking at flu from across the street. Their study didn’t even limit itself to influenza alone; they looked at winter respiratory illness in general.
The Canadian study included everything from the mildest chest cold to pneumonia, and everything in between. Influenza was part of that group.
During the study they gave the influenza vaccine to a large group and carefully observed for any respiratory illness. A more compulsive approach would be to count only lab-proven influenza, but that was not the Canadian way. Still, they generated some very interesting results.
Those who were vaccinated had 25 percent fewer respiratory illnesses than people who weren’t. The vaccinated group had 43 percent fewer sick days that winter, 44 percent fewer doctor visits, and saved almost $47 per patient.
Those are some impressive numbers and being a doctor, I very much want to do influenza antibody tests of all those Canadians. But that isn’t the point. The point is there seems to be a larger spectrum of influenza than we realize. Looking at doctor visits and sick days and all of that, a flu shot has measurable benefit for most people.
So you can get vaccinated because you are trying to keep the family healthy this winter, or because it’s the right thing to do. You can also get vaccinated simply because it’s a good investment in your health.
Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B) is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing clinical occupational medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B. works in our Scottsdale, Arizona clinic.