As flu season gets under way we are faced with a more potent strain of flu bug this year known as “swine flu” or the H1N1 virus. A lot of people are naturally concerned and are asking their healthcare providers if they should get vaccinated against the virus. What makes this virus more worrisome than past bugs is that due to its novel assortment of avian and swine genes, most people don’t have natural immunity against it. According to the Center for Disease Control(CDC), “laboratory studies have shown that no children and very few adults younger than 60 years old have existing antibody to 2009 H1N1 flu virus”. The one exception to this is people over 60. With this group, the CDC says, “about one-third of adults older than 60 may have antibodies against this virus. It is unknown how much, if any, protection may be afforded against 2009 H1N1 flu by any existing antibody”.
To keep swine flu in perspective it must be remembered that, “Each year, in the United States, on average 36,000 people die from flu-related complications and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu-related causes. Of those hospitalized, 20,000 are children younger than 5 years old. Over 90% of deaths and about 60 percent of hospitalizations occur in people older than 65”. In contrast to the usual seasonal flu, “The information analyzed by CDC supports the conclusion that 2009 H1N1 flu has caused greater disease burden in people younger than 25 years of age than older people. At this time, there are few cases and few deaths reported in people older than 64 years old, which is unusual when compared with seasonal flu.” It appears that while the very young can be susceptible, many of those over 60 years old have acquired immunity to swine flu from past exposure to older flu viruses.
This information is important to remember when consider whether or not to get vaccinated against the virus. Myself, I avoid flu vaccinations as it is my personal belief that the best approach for developing a healthy and responsive immune system is to let nature take its course – essentially, herd immunity. With swine flu, looking at people over 60 years old seems to support this belief. However, if I were in one of the susceptible groups listed below or a healthcare worker who came in regular contact with those at higher risks, I would get vaccinated. Mainly, because “pregnancy and other previously recognized high risk medical conditions from seasonal influenza appear to be associated with increased risk of complications from this 2009 H1N1. These underlying conditions include asthma, diabetes, suppressed immune systems, heart disease, kidney disease, neurocognitive and neuromuscular disorders and pregnancy”. In other words, if you are in a high risk group and you contract swine flu, you have a much greater chance of developing life threatening complications.
So you see, the question of whether to vaccinate against swine flu is not ideologically black and white. One has to weigh all the information in order to determine if vaccination is right for them or their loved ones. The important thing is to arrive at your own conclusion rationally and not be swayed by all the hype and fear that the national media has stirred up or by one’s own ideology. Basically, it comes down to these ideas. If you are in one of the high risk groups it might be prudent to consider vaccination. In otherwise healthy individuals who are not in the high risk categories and depending upon personal philosophy, it would be rational to consider other options such as boosting immunity with herbs, supplements, exercise, diet, and good stress management. This might create a more effective and resilient immune system. This will be the subject of my next article, so look for an upcoming blog post on how to Fight the Flu with Traditional Chinese Medicine!
* All quoted information is taken from the Center for Disease Control’s websiteFor more information, on Traditional Chinese Medicine please visit my website at www.hughsacupuncture.com