Protect yourself from an epidemic far deadlier than Ebola

Americans are very concerned about the Ebola outbreak in Africa that has now made its way across our borders, and rightly so. Ebola is often deadly, and there is no known vaccine or cure (even though some people do survive it).

But there’s a far deadlier foe out there, and we can protect ourselves against it: Influenza.

Ebola has claimed fewer than 4,000 lives globally to date, none in the United States. Flu claims between 250,000 and 500,000 lives every year, including over 20,000 in the United States—far more American lives than Ebola will ever claim.

Ebola is no joke: The Centers for Disease Control project 1.4 million cases of the disease worldwide by January in a worst-case scenario. But by comparison, the 1918 pandemic killed an estimated 50 to 100 million worldwide. The United States simply cannot afford to be complacent about flu preparedness.

Kendall Hoyt,

Ebola and influenza may both be devils, but influenza is the devil we know. Of course, most people who get the flu recover from it quickly — it’s unpleasant, but most people don’t think of it as a life-or-death issue. But, all too often, it is.

So, even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone over the age of six months get vaccinated, 55 percent of Americans did not get vaccinated during last year’s flu season…and last year was an improvement over previous years.

Skepticism of the flu vaccine still runs high, so it’s important that people understand the facts.

  • The flu vaccine cannot and will not cause you to get the flu. Period. Because of the way that the vaccine is made, it is impossible for the vaccine to give you the flu.
  • Just because you got the flu that one time after getting vaccinated does not mean the vaccine caused you to get the flu. Now, does that mean that you are guaranteed not to get the flu after you get vaccinated? No. According to the CDC, the efficacy is about 60% (whereas not getting vaccinated has an efficacy rate of 0%), and even when it does work, it usually takes about two weeks for your body
  • You are a good candidate for it. Yes, you. Although pregnant women, the elderly and immunocompromised people are at the highest risk of serious complications from influenza, you can do your part to help them even if you are healthy. It’s quite common to be contagious even while you are not experiencing flu-like symptoms. So getting vaccinated is not only for your health, it’s for everyone’s health.
  • It’s safe. Like any drug, there can be side effects from the flu vaccine…so there are a few instances when the flu vaccine is not a good idea. But, for the vast majority of people ages six months and up, the flu vaccine has been proven safe and effective (albeit not 100% effective) for many decades.

The bottom line is if you’re worried about Ebola, but you haven’t gotten a flu shot, your health priorities are severely out of whack.

I already got my flu shot this season. How about you?

Anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists allow measles to come roaring back

In recent years, there has been a great deal of talk about vaccines causing all sorts of dangerous side effects in children — especially autism. A 1998 study that appeared The Lancet, a prominent peer-reviewed medical journal, raised concerns about this around the world about the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine.

But the study was ultimately retracted by The Lancet in 2011 when the publication discovered that the author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, committed “an elaborate fraud” with this study — deliberately falsifying his research to prove his point. But the damage was still done.

But what about the ACTUAL dangerous side effects of catching the diseases that the vaccines prevent? According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, measles cases have now reached a 20-year high after being declared eradicated from the United States in 2000. How did it happen?

The current increase in measles cases is being driven by unvaccinated people, primarily U.S. residents, who got measles in other countries, brought the virus back to the United States and spread to others in communities where many people are not vaccinated. — Dr. Anne Schuchat, assistant surgeon general and director of CDC’s National Center for Immunizations and Respiratory Diseases

The reality is that measles is highly contagious and potentially deadly. Even though it was nearly eradicated in the United States, the same cannot be said for many developing countries like the Philippines. But with the uptick in infection rates here in the United States, it’s important to make sure you and your children have been vaccinated even if you don’t plan any trips overseas.

And don’t believe the hype. Vaccines were one of the greatest public health achievements of the 20th century — saving millions and millions of lives.

Public health is health care too

When people normally think of health policy, the first thing that comes to mind is health insurance reform like the Affordable Care Act.

But health status isn’t just about access to insurance, doctors, drugs and hospitals, it’s also about the environment where we all live. That means factoring in the health effects of air quality, water quality, urban planning, transportation (is it safe to walk or bicycle instead of driving?), public safety, nutrition and sanitation.

Now that’s holistic medicine.