Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Flu Season

There’s a chill in the air, the leaves are turning, and the pumpkins are starting to appear. It can only mean one thing- flu season is here!

Ah, yes, flu season. A time when the world is supposedly on the verge of a massive outbreak of disease that will kill millions, just like in 1918-1919.

My sister was working as a patient tech at a large hospital in 2009 when health officials prognosticated a H1N1 “pandemic”. She said that she and her coworkers were assigned double and triple shifts in advance of the flu season because the hospital was convinced they would be flooded with flu victims. Well, the pandemic never materialized as the hospital imagined and my sister and her coworkers ended up with several leisurely overtime shifts where they were payed to hang out in the physical therapy room.

It is true that during 1918-1919 (which coincided with World War I) a swine flu pandemic swept the world and killed many people, including large numbers of young people (the types of people serving in the military at the time). However, in 1918 the idea that viruses could cause disease was still relatively new and factors claimed by doctors to cause the flu included nakedness, German contaminated fish, dirt, dust, unwashed pajamas, Chinese people, open windows, closed windows, old books, and “some cosmic influence” (1). Furthermore, the world was at war and young soldiers were under physical and mental stress from combat and were confined in close quarters and eating a diet that most likely consisted of canned food and other less-than-healthy fare. Many were probably also recovering from battle wounds. Travelling around the world to fight gave the virus ample opportunity to spread, especially when covering your mouth with your sleeve to cough and sneeze, washing your hands, and eating a diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables to strengthen the immune system were never even considered as ways to prevent the spread of the flu.

In fact, the mass vaccination campaign that took place in 1976 happened not because thousands of people were dying, but because an eighteen year old army private in the middle of basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey fell ill with the flu and (against orders) left his quarters to go on an all night hike with his platoon wearing a fifty pound pack in the middle of winter and subsequently collapsed and died. Private David Lewis’s death was considered out of the ordinary for flu deaths because he was young and physically fit (2). Several recruits at Fort Dix tested positive for H1N1 as did Private Lewis’s body, the strain of flu that caused the 1918-19 epidemic and health officials panicked. They assumed that because H1N1 had killed many young people in 1918-19 and had just killed a previously a young, fit army private, that it must be a particularly lethal strain of of flu.

Let’s be rational, though. If you were stressed out, physically fatigued, possibly recovering from battle wounds, in cramped quarters with lots of other people who didn’t cover their noses or mouths when they coughed or sneezed, eating a diet low in fresh produce, and didn’t wash your hands, do you think it would take a lot for you to get deathly ill? If you were in the middle of the flu and made the decision to go on an all night hike with a fifty pound pack in the middle of winter, do you think it would take much to kill you? Furthermore, an article written for the medical journal Clinical Infectious Diseases shows evidence that the high number of deaths among young adults during the 1918 pandemic was due to doctors giving dangerously high dosages of aspirin to flu patients. (3) Interestingly enough, when Private Lewis collapsed, his sergeant gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and never got sick. (4). This is not typical of an especially deathly flu strain. Health officials put one and one together and came up with ten, looking only at the virus and deaths, not taking into account the other factors which contributed to the deaths. Many doctors attacked the CDC’s projection of 21 million people dead worldwide from H1N1 in 1976. They said that most of the deaths in 1918-1919 were because of secondary infections of bacterial pneumonia, which could be easily treated in twentieth-century intensive care units. (5)

The actual number of swine flu cases in 2009 is much in debate since the CDC told doctors not to test for the H1N1 virus, saying that the test can be inaccurate and give false negatives.(6) That may very well be, but it would still be more accurate than diagnosing on symptoms alone. This is also interesting because the CDC says that one of the limitations in determining whether a report to VAERS constitutes a vaccine reaction is lab test results (7) In other words, there is no need to perform lab tests to confirm a case of swine flu, but laboratory tests are necessary to establish that there has been a vaccine reaction.

On a personal note, I would like relate my experience with being in a so-called high risk category for swine flu. In December of 2009 I was seven months pregnant. Swine flu pandemic warnings were everywhere and I was aware that as a pregnant woman I was considered to be at risk for complications from H1N1. I did not get the H1N1 vaccine. A few days after Christmas I became sick. I had deviated some from my diet and eaten some junk food over the past week and my husband’s whole family (including several young children) were all crammed into the house with us. It’s possible I had H1N1. Along with a little nausea and vomiting, I had a bad sore throat- a symptom which was supposed to be particular to the swine flu and which I had not experienced in other bouts of the flu. It’s impossible to know for sure without testing though. I spent the day in bed, taking little sips of water and little spoonfuls of dry, whole grain cereal throughout the day. By evening, I was starting to feel better and started drinking more water to make sure I didn’t get dehydrated and eating plain foods to sustain my baby and myself. The next day I was tired, but otherwise fine. My son shows no ill effects at all from episode with the flu. (His birth defect occurred within the first few weeks of conception, long before I had the flu.) He is very healthy and is the highest functioning child the doctors have ever seen for his particular birth defect and above average cognitively.

I have seen a few women on forums say that they get the flu vaccine because a friend lost a pregnancy because of H1N1 influenza. I find this suspect since testing was stopped. I've also heard tell of women who lost pregnancies shortly after receiving the flu shot. VAERS has a number of these reports on file. I find it almost hilarious when these women chirp, "I got the flu shot and I was only down for three days afterwards! It's not so bad. Go get it yourself!" Ah, yes. We are deathly afraid of getting sick from a virus. But if we get sick from a vaccine, it's A-OK! A columnist for the Wall Street Journal described getting sick after the flu shot and the denial he received from everyone, in a column titled "They Shoot Flu Shot Skeptics, Don't They?". "If you won the lottery after you got the flu shot, you wouldn't think the two are connected!" a friend sneered at him. But we don't shoot lottery tickets into our bloodstream, now do we? (8)


(1) The Coming Plague, Laurie Garrett, pg. 158
(2) The Coming Plague, Laurie Garrett, pg. 154
(3)  Flu deaths and high aspirin dosages in 1918 (
(4) The Coming Plague, Laurie Garrett, pg. 159
(5) The Coming Plague, Laurie Garrett, pg. 169  
(6) H1N1 testing (or lack thereof)
(7) Lab testing for vaccine reactions
(8) “They Shoot Flu Shot Skeptics, Don’t They?”

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