October 8, 2009

H1N1 Swine Flu: to vaccinate—or not to vaccinate.

New Age natural quacks vs. scientific, life-saving advancements?

Or mainstream panic-mongers vs. natural, unafraid wisdom?

There’s an argument afoot. This morning, in the tub, I read the lead article of (my favorite mag) The New Yorker. Instead of examining Bush or Obama or whatever political issue of the day had got their goat, as they’re wont to do, they devoted some of the most read 12 column inches in old media today to urging the American public to, well, panic—or rather, take precaution, and get vaccinated. Swine Flu, more properly known as H1N1, is serious.

It’s a powerful little essay—because elephant, well, we exist in that liberal green bubble where vaccinations are feared and alternative remedies preferred, where Swine Flu is laughed at (nervously), and mainstream media panic-mongering hype is viewed with disdain (Swine Flu in your Home Town, sweeping Nation!).

Excerpt (click here for more and the original article in full):

…hiatus provided an opening for the anti-vaccine, anti-government, and anti-science crowd, and they stormed through. Where, they wondered, was the big pandemic? Where were all the bodies? Last week, the political pundit Bill Maher dispatched a communiqué to his fifty-six thousand followers on Twitter: “If u get a swine flu shot ur an idiot.” The view seems widespread. A national poll conducted by the University of Michigan found that only forty per cent of American parents plan to vaccinate their children against H1N1. The news is all the more distressing because the virus affects children and young adults far more powerfully than it does older people. (With most strains of seasonal flu, the elderly are especially at risk.)

Why would a parent decline to vaccinate his child against a virus that has already infected a million Americans? Half of those who participated in the poll expressed concern about possible side effects. Vaccines do cause side effects, and, in rare instances, the side effects can be serious. In particular, people who are already ill with another infection should avoid vaccines. But the odds that a flu vaccine would cause more harm than the illness itself are practically zero. Nearly half of those polled said that they weren’t worried about their children getting the flu. (There have even been reports of “swine-flu parties,’’ where parents can bring children in the hope that they will contract a potentially fatal disease.)

The Internet’s facility for amplifying rumors has also played a role. One still unpublished report from Canada suggests that seasonal-flu shots could make people more susceptible to H1N1. Never mind that it is based on data that nobody has studied extensively, and that the findings have not been reproduced in any other study. “There’s been some research done by some Canadian scientists and doctors that might indicate that getting a seasonal-flu shot will increase your risk of getting H1N1 flu,” Dr. Martha Buchanan, the medical director of the Knox County Health Department, in Tennessee, said recently. There are no hard facts in that sentence, and yet it was picked up around the world, sowing fear and confusion in equal measure. On the Huffington Post, Dr. Frank Lipman, a practitioner of naturopathic medicine and a self-described expert in preventive health care, offered these reasons to avoid the H1N1 vaccine: the epidemic so far has been mild, we don’t know whether the vaccine will be safe, and we cannot say whether it will be effective.

In fact, the new H1N1 virus is similar to seasonal flu in its severity. In the United States, influenza regularly ranks among the ten leading causes of death, infecting up to twenty per cent of the population. It kills roughly thirty-five thousand Americans every year and sends hundreds of thousands to the hospital. Even relatively mild pandemics, like those of 1957 and 1968, have been health-care disasters: the first killed two million people and the second a million.

We are more fortunate than our predecessors, though. Scientists produced a vaccine rapidly; it will be available within weeks…

…click here for the full bit.

For a good middle-ground approach, read Dr. Weil’s advice below or click here for the full story.

Swine Flu and You
By Dr. Andrew Weil

The H1N1 virus, also known as the swine flu virus, remains much in the news, but so far, the disease does not appear to be exceptionally virulent or widespread. As of this writing, most state officials are reporting regional or sporadic activity, and the proportion of deaths attributed to pneumonia or influenza remains within the bounds of what normally happens in the summer.

So there is certainly no need to panic, but I do advise you to remain informed about the symptoms of swine flu and prevalence of the disease in your region. For daily updates on the progress of the disease within the United States, see the “Swine Influenza” page maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For international updates, see WHO’s list of prevalence in countries worldwide. To protect yourself, follow this advice from the CDC:

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after using it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • If you do get the flu (or any contagious illness, for that matter), stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.

In addition to getting good nutrition and adequate sleep during the flu season, I suggest taking a daily antioxidant, multivitamin-mineral supplement, as well as astragalus, a well-known immune-boosting herb that can help ward off colds and flu. You might also consider mushroom-based immune modulators such as Host Defense or Mycosoft Gold available through Fungi Perfecti or the Weil Immune Support Formula which contains both astragalus and immune-supportive polypore mushrooms (I donate all of my profits from royalties from the sale of Weil products to the Weil Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to supporting integrative medicine through training, education and research).

If you live in an area in which swine flu cases have been confirmed, and contract symptoms including fever, aches, sore throat, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, you should contact your health care provider. He or she will determine whether testing is needed.

Adults who experience any of the following should seek emergency medical care:

  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting

Children should be given emergency medical attention if they experience the following:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting

Finally, note that despite its name, swine flu influenza cannot be contracted by eating pork or pork products.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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