Prevention of disease remains one of the most important parts of medicine, however it is also one of the most neglected. Currently our country is in the midst of an epidemic of viral infections, many of which can be avoided by receiving the proper immunizations and by practicing good hand washing. (I bet most of you don’t know that alcohol-based hand sanitizer does not always kill the norovirus which is currently causing an outbreak of a nasty stomach virus. Instead, use lots of soap and water and wash your hands for 20-30 seconds – long enough to sing Happy Birthday two times – to help prevent the spread of this virus.) The current outbreak of the influenza virus is still considered widespread in most states, yet, people still refuse to protect themselves with a simple vaccination. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), fewer than 40% of Americans (adults and children) have been vaccinated against this flu. Excuses run the gamut from “it’s not 100% effective so why bother,” to “the flu shot causes the flu,” (not true; there’s not a live virus in the adult vaccine) or “I never get a flu shot and I never get the flu.”
It’s true that the flu vaccine is not 100% effective. Neither are seat belts and air bags, but that doesn’t mean you should take your chances and not use them. The CDC estimates that those who got the 2012-2013 flu shot are 62% less likely to get the flu. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take those odds. A 62% lesser chance of missing work or school, and maybe losing wages? A lesser chance of being hospitalized in an already over-burdened system? A lesser chance of potentially dying? Yep, I’ll take the flu shot over that!
Anyone who has children diligently takes them to the pediatrician for an annual physical and an update on their vaccinations. The vaccines we use are frequently being improved and the recommendations for receiving them (for adults and children) are constantly being updated. Why, then, is it our tendency to stop going to the doctor for an annual checkup once we become adults? The need for a comprehensive annual physical is still present, as is the need for vaccinations. Being unprotected exposes us to many illnesses that will keep us sick and in bed for a week or longer, that were preventable had we just kept up on our vaccinations. Are you aware that the recommendations for the tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (Tdap) vaccinations were recently updated for adults? In my practice, patients are given a 90-minute annual physical that allows me the time to review what vaccinations they might need in order to stay immunized – and healthy.
Vaccines expose our immune system to killed bacteria, viruses, or parts of both. As a response, our immune systems produce antibodies which act as an internal security system. When we are exposed to the real disease we are able to fight it off. Additionally, getting vaccinated helps stop the spread of disease. Not only do you protect yourself, but you also help to protect those who cannot be vaccinated (infants under six months of age or those with a severe egg allergy, for example). In Pennsylvania alone there are 600,000 to 1.3 million cases of influenza each year which leads to 180 to 2000 deaths from complications. I have seen people both young and old die from pneumonia caused by influenza. Sadly, this is often preventable.
Did you get the flu vaccine this year? If not, has this article helped change your mind?
As I hit “send” to publish this blog post, I’d like to ask Patch readers to give me feedback on what topics you’re interested in hearing about or learning about. After all, as a physician who has made it my life’s work to put prevention first, if I’m not giving you information to help you improve your health, then I’m not doing my job.
Here’s to your health –