Who Knew What the Flu Could Do
Oct 19, 2010

By Christine Vara
It’s October and the weather has briskly announced that fall has arrived.  Along with pumpkins, falling leaves and Halloween decorations, now is the time to say “Boo to the Flu”.  As cute as this may sound, the flu is a serious matter.
When I was younger, I used to think the flu was just a big inconvenience…like it was just a cold on steroids.  You stay in bed for a week or so, sipping soup and fluids while a family member nurses you back to health.  Slowly you recover and life resumes.  I assumed the death rates I had heard about were mostly as a result of patients who were already sick or fragile, like premature babies or elderly people in nursing homes.
It’s hard to admit this but…I can’t believe I was ever so naïve!
Nine years ago, almost to the day, my eyes were opened.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  My husband and I had just brought our newborn baby – our fourth child – home from the hospital.  A military friend from my husband’s squadron had come to deliver a meal and politely asked if we would pray for another member of the squadron who had just been airlifted to Duke hospital.  You can imagine our surprise when we discovered that his quickly deteriorating condition was brought on by a “common” flu virus.
If I could only portray what this Marine was like, you would never believe this story.  He was, and always had been, the image of health.  A Naval Academy grad.  Young, strong and active.  But that didn’t save him.  The virus had attacked his heart and within about 72 hours he fell into a coma and died.  My husband had rushed to the hospital to see him and shared with me the heartbreaking scene as his parents, siblings, wife and child said their goodbyes.
His unfortunate death was an enormous loss to my husband and his squadron.   Plenty of Marines had been laid to rest due to training accidents or war casualties, but this was a young, vibrant man in his early 30s, married only three short years, with a two year old baby he never would see grow into the beautiful young lady she is today.  Who on earth would have thought he would be a victim of the flu?  What’s even worst is that while the military requires Marines to get flu shots each year, it was early in the season and Alan hadn’t received his yet.
Unfortunately, this is human nature.  We resist seeing what we don’t want to see.  I never wanted to recognize the great risk my family was in each year during flu season.  I – like I suspect many other parents – didn’t want to inconvenience myself with trying to coordinate flu shots for multiple kids who don’t like needles.  Now, when I read the flu statistics, I can’t help but see Alan’s face.
The fact is that each year, people die from complications from the flu. While the number of deaths depends on the severity and length of the flu season, it typically ranges between 3,000 to 49,000 deaths each year, with  approximately 200,000 people being hospitalized as a result of the flu.
These are no longer just numbers to me.  These are parents, children, and loved ones. And the hardest part to swallow is that children under 5 years old are at particularly high-risk of developing serious flu complications.
What we must all realize is that the most important measure you can take to prevent the flu is to ensure you get a seasonal flu shot.  Additionally, it’s best not to wait so be sure to get yours as soon as it becomes available in your community.
In order to help educate others, I intend to run a “Focus On the Flu” series here on Shot of Prevention over the next few weeks.  If there is anything specific that you would like us to cover, please let us know.  Additionally, I will be referencing plenty of resources.
For instance Families Fighting Flu, Visiting Nurse Associations of America and The Clorox Company have teamed up on a “Say Boo to the Flu” campaign.  Check out their website for valuable tips, expert advice and great activities to get your kids involved in flu prevention.
To start, here is some basic information on the seasonal flu vaccine.
Flu vaccination is safe. This year’s vaccine is made in the same way as past flu vaccines, and will protect against three different flu viruses.
If you hate shots, there’s an alternative. The nasal spray flu vaccine is available and just as effective.
You can’t get flu from the flu vaccine. The flu shot and nasal spray are made with dead and weakened flu viruses respectively and do not cause flu.
It’s never been more convenient to get vaccinated. Flu vaccines are provided at doctors’ offices, pharmacies and clinics throughout the country.
Vaccination is the single best way to protect yourself and your family against the flu and the CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older should get vaccinated against the flu every year.

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