Last winter the Flu killed 80,000 men women and children. Such shocking and appalling loss of life need not have happened, and must not be repeated.

The winter of 2017-2018 was a normal flu season; nothing epidemic nor pandemic about it. It was the same Swine Flu that swept across the country in 2009-2010, without such annihilation. This puzzle has yet to be fully pieced together, but one factor is evident: far too many of us failed to get vaccinated to prevent contracting the flu.

Unfortunately there was and continues to be a widely shared belief that flu vaccines are ineffective, and to be avoided: better to risk it. Not a good bet.

Let’s be clear about it: flu season is on its way, and we will be visited by both the common cold and the flu. Unhappily this can be confusing as both share a medley of common symptoms: grogginess, aches, sore throat, stopped up or stuffy nose, coughs and headaches. So how do we differentiate one from the other?

Flu almost always arrives with deep muscle aches and joint pain; bone aching pain; dry cough, and sudden onset of fever over 101º, that can last for two weeks, along with runny nose and sore throat. Pneumonia and bronchitis are all too often complications that can extend the illness for additional weeks. However, most people recover within a week without requiring medical attention, but flu can cause severe illness and even death, especially among high risk individuals: pregnant women; children under 5; elderly people with chronic medical conditions, as well as those with immunosuppressive disorders such as HIV/AIDS and those receiving chemotherapy and steroids.

How do we beat the flu and avoid these nasty complications? Vaccinate. Flu shots are the most protective.

Bear in mind that no vaccine, like anything else, is perfect. It is statistically inevitable that a relative handful of the millions of us who get vaccinated, will not be protected. Given past experience, flu vaccines will be blamed for coincidental health problems. For example, substantial evidence has shown that 1 in 7 pregnancies normally end in miscarriages. Consequently it is anticipated that in any 10,000 pregnant women, some 1,400 in early pregnancy, will miscarriage this fall/winter whether or not they obtain flu vaccine. Even so, most physicians will urge pregnant women to get vaccinated because the flu can be responsible for nasty infections during pregnancy.

There will be controversy. What our communities do not need are people losing faith in vaccines. That would do more harm than good. Vaccines have proved themselves to be an immense public health advance.

There are other critical steps each of us can take, especially students. Since influenza spreads easily with rapid transmission, school kids, pre-teens, and teenagers are at great risk and are often the major sources of viral transmission. Why? Because they are commonly in highly “catching” environments where viral particles released in close quarters via sneezing, coughing, and talking become air-borne. Far too many of these youngsters fail to cover their mouths and noses when sneezing or coughing. Inhalation is the way saliva, and viruses with it, are shared. Sharing also occurs via contaminated clothing, books, and towels, on which viruses can survive for six to eight hours.

While classrooms are model environments for spreading viral particles, these particles will also spread in cafeterias and gyms and other communal gathering spots and of course brought home to continue transmission among family members, who, sad to say, are all too often notorious spreaders via sneezing, coughing, and virus-bearing hands as well. So hand-washing is a vital enterprise for one and all.

Along with hand washing, kids and adults should carry and use the readily available pocket-sized alcohol-based disinfectant gel tubes; using them frequently to disinfect hands. These two-ounce tubes contain 65 percent alcohol, which is safe for us, but hell on viruses and are available in most supermarkets and pharmacies.

Parents should try to motivate schools to ensure that students wash their hands two to three times a day, and also provide alcohol-based disinfectants at strategic locations around the school. And yes, tissues for nose and mouth covering and wiping should be in every backpack; available for that sudden sneeze. Get students used to carrying and using them.

Furthermore, our seasonal vaccines are now available and should be obtained ASAP, as it takes four to six weeks for protective antibodies to rise to preventive levels. Doing these things can beat the flu. We do not want a repeat of last winter’s deadliness.

Stay well. Keep your spittle to yourself. Disinfect, but above all, get vaccinated!

— Melvin A. Benarde

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