A flu vaccine is recommended for every one age 6 months and older because preventing the flu is better than suffering with it. The real danger of flu is not just in the fever, cough, congestion, extreme fatigue and muscle aches that can cause people to be ill for a week or more, it’s the fact that influenza causes thousands of hospitalizations and deaths each year.
Getting a flu shot not only helps to protect us from getting the flu ourselves, but it means we are less likely to spread the virus to those who are more vulnerable to complications from the flu. This includes young children, pregnant women, infants too young to be vaccinated, older individuals, and people with weakened immune systems. In fact, children account for about 20,000 hospitalizations and roughly 100 deaths from influenza each year.
Unfortunately, this year we are hearing that some parents are opting to skip the flu vaccine for their children simply because the nasal flu mist – also known as the live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV) – is no longer recommended or available this season.
As a mother, I know it can be difficult to deal with children who have anxiety over shots and needles, and no parent likes to see their children in pain. However, when parents skip shots for their children, they are more likely to have to watch their children suffer with the flu, which is much more dangerous than any short-lived anxiety over getting a needle in the arm. In some cases, the flu can be devastating and even fatal, especially for young children.
Consider Gianna’s story.
Her mother, father and brother were all vaccinated in 2015. But by January, they still hadn’t gotten around to getting two and a half-year old Gianna vaccinated. She fell sick on January 8th, and by January 10th she had died from influenza.
With Gianna, like we see with many children, everything happened so fast. She started feeling ill at daycare. The next morning her pediatrician confirmed that she had the H3N2 influenza virus and prescribed antivirals. But the infection spread quickly and the antivirals didn’t even have time to kick in.
Later that evening, Gianna called out to her mother as she lay beside her in bed. It would be the last time she would hear Gianna’ voice. Read more…
It’s not uncommon for healthy adults to skip their annual flu vaccine. In fact, it’s estimated that only about 40% of adults receive an influenza vaccine each year – a preventive measure that the CDC recommends for everyone age 6 months of age and older, with rare exception.
While adults tend to understand that the flu can be dangerous and sometimes even deadly, they often don’t get vaccinated because they just don’t consider themselves at risk.
I imagine it’s because we’re living in a time when modern medicine is so advanced. The average American just doesn’t consider it likely that a healthy adult could die from something so common as the flu? One would imagine that those at greatest risk of death from flu would be young children, the elderly or people who have underlying health conditions, right?
While it is true that there are certain demographics of people who may be more likely to suffer severe consequences from flu, it does not mean that a healthy adult is not also at risk of hospitalization or death. As Michael Pulgini explains, the flu is “aggressive, sneaky, and potentially deadly” and “no one is invincible” just because you are young, strong, or healthy.
You see, Michael is one of those healthy adults who refused the flu shot last season, citing that he felt it wasn’t necessary and suspecting it might make him sick. Michael ended up contracting the flu, but recovered after about five days of body aches, fever, runny nose and cough.
But what continues to haunt Michael today is the fact that his wife also fell victim to the flu – but sadly, she never recovered.
Michael now lives with the horrifying memory of watching his beautiful wife Cecilia suffer and die from the very disease that he had previously trivialized.
After Michael had recovered, Cecilia started to show signs of illness, such as runny nose, body aches and pains, and a weird symptom that caused her upper lip to swell. She made several visits to the doctor, and the last visit occurred about eight or nine days after her first symptoms appeared. This time, she was complaining of shortness of breath. The doctor gave her an injection to help open up her airways, but within 30 hours Cecilia was in terrible distress and her breathing was very rapid and shallow. A chest x-ray at the hospital showed one lung was completely covered in puss and fluid from an infection.
Doctors explained that the influenza virus continued to replicate, hitting Cecilia full force and completely overpowering her body’s ability to fight off the infection.
They also told Michael something he will never forget;
“If she had been vaccinated against influenza, there was a 90% chance she wouldn’t be here [in the hospital] like this.”
Sadly, Cecilia was put into a medically induced coma. They intubated her and put her on a ventilator since she was unable to breathe on her own. All the while, Michael believed in his heart that she would pull through because she was young and strong.
But Michael was wrong. He explains,
Nurses Who Vaccinate is hosting a Nurses Night Out event on World Polio Day, October 24th in Islip, NY. In an effort to spread the word, the question arose as to how to best phrase the news about World Polio Day. Would it be to celebrate, honor or share?
To really make the most of World Polio Day, we must attempt to do all three. We should celebrate the successes we’ve seen in the global efforts to eradicate this disease. We must honor and recognize the organizations and individuals who work towards this important goal. And while we’ll continue to share the encouraging statistics of our eradication efforts, we must also share the stories of polio survivors, whose personal experiences fuel our passion to inform others and reaffirm our commitment to these goals.
While Judith S. Beatty may be just another woman in her 70’s today, she has written a heartfelt account of her personal experience with polio through the eyes of the young girl she once was. Her complete story, which appears on Shot By Shot’s story gallery, exposes the emotional scars of polio survival, in addition to the physical aspects of the disease.
Judith begins her story in 1949; a time she describes as very promising, with her father returning from war and her family moving out of a dingy apartment outside of New York City to a two-story house in a small town in Connecticut. However, when she contracted polio at the age of 6, life took a dramatic turn and her story reminds us of the culture of fear that permeated the times.
“I remember being very sick at that point and being dressed quickly and put in the car. I was taken to the Englewood Hospital in Bridgeport, about an hour away, and put in an iron lung. By that time I was paralyzed from the neck down. My mother related to me years later that they said I would die that night. It was no idle fear. The year I got sick, 42,000 children contracted polio and 3,000 died from it.”
“Fear of the disease was so strong that people shunned my parents after I fell ill. Our house was quarantined so no one could come in.”
The most heart-felt aspects of Judith’s story relate to the devastating isolation she experienced during her illness and the physical and emotional impact that polio had on the rest of her life. Read more…
When a child is born parents experience a combination of joy, relief, hope and even a healthy dose of worry. Every parent wants to keep their precious children safe, and thanks to the availability of vaccines, parents can now prevent as many as 14 different diseases by the time their children are two years old. However, it’s important to realize that until a child is fully immunized, they remain at risk of contracting these dangerous diseases and therefore must rely on protection from their families and community members.
Kate and Ellie are twin girls who were born healthy and happy on January 5, 2012. As recommended, they received their DTaP vaccine at two months of age. This vaccine was the first of five doses they would need in order for their bodies to build immunity to diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (also known as whooping cough). Before completing the full vaccination series, children like Kate and Ellie remain susceptible to dangerous diseases like pertussis. And unfortunately, when the girls were just 14 weeks old, their family realized just how important disease prevention is and just how life-threatening pertussis infection can be.
Ellie’s battle with pertussis began in April 2012 with what was described as a cough. When the pediatrician realized that her lung capacity was down to 82% of normal, she was quickly admitted to the local hospital and put on oxygen. Then, as her mother explains “things spiraled downhill pretty fast”. They suspected Ellie may have pertussis and while they she was awaiting an ambulance transport to Boston Children’s Hospital, doctors had to swarm the room and intubate her.
Ellie’s mother describes the ordeal in excruciating detail on the Shot By Shot website:
“…the doctors told us Ellie’s lungs were failing fast, her heart rate was dangerously high, and the fluids that she was getting through her IV weren’t getting to her organs. Whatever was attacking Ellie made every cell in her body “leaky.” They moved Ellie to the ICU.”
By Sunday evening the medical team told us that Ellie was in complete respiratory failure and our last chance of survival was to try a heart lung bypass machine called ECMO. Ellie’s lungs were bypassed, but as the hours passed, Ellie’s blood flow turned to sludge. Her kidney and liver function had virtually stopped. Read more…
The one thing that is certain about the flu is that it is extremely unpredictable. It’s impossible to predict the severity of the flu from patient to patient and there is no way to anticipate just how many people will be infected, hospitalized or even die as a result of the flu each season. While estimates of influenza associated deaths range from 3,000 to 49,000 per year, who’s to know for certain what this year’s figures will be.
But one thing is for sure. When the flu hits you or your family, statistics won’t really matter too much. Take Tammy’s story as an example.
Tammy was surprised by a phone call in the middle of the night and the unfortunate news that her grandmother was hospitalized with the flu. Having been very close to her grandmother, Tammy was quite distraught and rushed to be by her side. Her worry soon turned to grief as her grandmother succumbed to influenza the next day.
As hard as it was for Tammy to accept her grandmother’s sudden death, what happened next was completely unexpected. Read more…
It’s astonishing to me that there are people who are so dead-set against vaccinating their children that they somehow feel it is safer to sicken their children by exposing them to “wild” disease. They argue that the “natural” immunity that their child will get (after suffering a long bout of discomfort and risk of complications from an unpredictable illness) will serve them better in the long run than the immunity that is offered through a vaccine. But they are dangerously mistaken.
It is no secret that vaccine refusers often use social media and various parenting forums to arrange pox parties, facilitate the mailing of infected lollipops to those who live too far to attend, and even advise parents to “pop their child’s chickenpox sores and rub them all over their other children to ensure they all get infected”.
Seriously, I can’t make this stuff up! This is the kind of advice I read on parenting forums all the time.
But, what I don’t understand is what makes these parents think that by infecting their children in this way that they are going to be better off than if they had been vaccinated. The misconception that wild viruses and “natural” immunity are better is just plain wrong. And what makes chickenpox worse is that these parents aren’t avoiding the disease, but rather purposely infecting their children rather than get them vaccinated.
If parents are going to take their chances with the wild varicella virus, it’s important that they first acknowledge the risks. While many people may come through a chickenpox infection with nothing more than a few days of ice baths, gallons of calamine lotion and some unsightly scars that linger once the itchy scabs fall off, there are cases in which varicella can result in serious complications, hospitalizations and even death. While vaccine hesitant parents may proudly declare that they had chickenpox and survived, those that did not are no longer here to tell their story.
Today’s guest post from Dr. Lara Zibners addresses a follow-up question we received on our Vaccinate Your Baby Facebook page in response to a previous post about the varicella (chicken pox) vaccine.
“How likely is it that my older 2 kids (who got wild pox and weren’t vaccinated) will get shingles later?”
Boy, do I love a follow-up question! It means someone out there actually took the time to read my words, contemplate their meaning, and push the issue further. So let’s take the question in parts A & B: (A) what is the risk of developing shingles over one’s lifetime? and (B) is the risk different if an individual has “wild-type” chicken pox versus the varicella vaccine?
First off, let’s start by stating one unarguable fact: shingles sucks. Sorry, there’s no other way to describe it. Burning pain followed by nasty little blisters which are confined to what we call a “dermatome.” A dermatome is an area of the skin that is supplied by a single spinal nerve. In other words, the area of the spine called “T4” (for thoracic nerve #4) provides sensation to the nipple line and “T10” is the level of the belly button. Does that make sense? It may help if I tell you that as a first year medical student I dressed up as “Dermatome Man” by spray painting a sweat suit in stripes of pink, yellow and blue and writing the corresponding dermatome in each area. If that doesn’t help, then it just confirmed for you that I’m a dork. Fine. Moving on.
When a body encounters the varicella virus, either via wild-type chicken pox infection or the vaccine, the virus can basically go for a long snooze in one of these spinal nerves. If it wakes up, it causes shingles, also known as herpes zoster. Complications include zoster of the eyes (causing scarring), infection of the blisters, or infection of other organs of the body including the brain, liver or lungs. As if zoster itself wasn’t miserable enough. What’s even worse is that some people go on to develop a condition called “post herpetic neuralgia.” This is where the blisters have gone away (in about 1-2 weeks) but the burning painful sensation remains, in some cases for years. The pain can be so terrible and debilitating that it has even driven some poor souls to suicide. If that isn’t the definition of “sucks,” I don’t know what is. Read more…