Monday, October 26, 2009

H1N1 and Over Skepticism?

My parents are freaking out about H1N1. Every day the news reports a new case of some young person dying, and they say I better go get the flu shot Or Else. I personally feel that the media is overreacting just to have sensationalist, scary stories that grab people's attention. Most people who contract H1N1 have mild symptoms, and it hasn't really killed people any more than the normal flu does...the news just doesn't report normal flu cases. I understand that not many people have immunity so we're worried about it's future effects, but I can't really force myself to freak out about that right now.

Am I being too skeptical about H1N1? Is this something I should be shaking in my boots about? I have to admit, I fall prey to kind of woo-thinking when it comes to medical things. No, I'm not an anti-vaxer - I trust vaccines and understand their importance. But at the same time, I've never had a flu shot and I've never gotten seriously ill. The couple of times I've had the flu it was just like any other illness - you're mildly miserable for a couple of days, and then you're fine. I'm not inclined to change my practices that appear to have worked so far.

My problem is I trust my own immune system and the millions of years of evolution that went into making it a little too much. I don't take Advil unless my headache is severe, I don't take Tylenol until my cold becomes unbearable, I avoid superfluous antibiotics, I don't go to the eye doctor until my vision becomes blurry (actually still have to go, whoops). I know it's a horrible habit, but I've always had a "suck it up unless it's serious" mentality (or as my dad says for injuries, "Rub some dirt in it"). I feel like I don't want to build up a tolerance to medication so I can still use it when I really need it.

Am I being completely irrational? You won't hurt my feelings if you say so - I think we're all irrational about something. Are there other people out there who think like I do?


  1. To be honest - I've got the exact same feelings about it. I kinda feel guilty about it, because I coaxed my girlfriend's kid sister to go get the cervical cancer shot while everyone was being skeptical. Turned out next to no one took it - but she did, even being raised quite religious. I felt proud of her, and here I am, considering not taking my H1N1 shot...

  2. I got Gardasil (the "cergical cancer shot", really an HPV vaccine) as soon as I could. Didn't second guess it at all. I guess I saw cervical cancer as a bigger threat than the flu.

  3. No, I do not think you are being irrational. I feel almost exactly the same way you do about medications and vaccinations. I think that they are of great benefit for societies, but personally, I try to resist taking them so that they will work for me when I really do need them.

    The "no flu shot for me" strategy has been serving me very well for my 47 years. I usually only get really sick about once every five years, but I can't really establish a causality link there.

  4. It seems that H1N1 manifests itself most dangerously in young people (under 40). The most alarming (albeit anecdotal) stories I've read about H1N1 were about "healthy" young people who died (in some cases rather suddenly) from H1N1. The risks associated with the vaccine are minimal compared to those of the actual flu. Go get your vaccination. My kids and I already had ours.

    Interesting article here ( debunking myths about the vaccine. Best line:
    Claim: Mercola says “Injecting organisms into your body to provoke immunity is contrary to nature.”
    Fact: Nature kills people. Doing something contrary to nature is what medicine is all about. It’s a good thing.

  5. Rex said...
    "I feel almost exactly the same way you do about medications and vaccinations ... I try to resist taking them so that they will work for me when I really do need them."

    Maybe you don't understand how vaccinations work. They are effective by allowing your body to generate antibodies to the virus without exposing you to the actual virus itself. They won't help you after you've contracted the real thing.

  6. Most people I know who got H1N1 were fine after a week at most, and that does seem to be pretty standard. However, the death rate for the "at-risk" age range (of which I am a member) is much higher then seasonal flu.

    So while not truly scared of it, why risk it? If I can get the vaccine cheap and easily why the hell not? Sure the risk is low, but why take it at all?

  7. I read recently (in a story about H1N1, if I remember correctly) where a security expert said, "If it's in the news, don't worry about it". The upshot was that everyday, mundane things (like car accidents) are far more dangerous than the latest virus in the news. I think your skepticism is on the money here. As for not taking medicine unless you really need it--I don't see anything irrational in that. That just seems like common sense.

  8. I look at the flu vaccine with more a social contract position than a personal health one:

    Chances are, if you get H1N1, you'll have a bad flu, but will recover and be fine.

    But you'll also expose potentially many other people to the virus who may get sick and in turn pass it on to even MORE people.

    To me, THAT'S why the vaccine is important. Most people getting it (the vax) wouldn't get mortally ill if they got the real flu, but by immunizing themselves to it, they help contain the virus and reduce the overall infection rate, and thus also the mortality rate.

    Also, I'd reiterate what Jeff said: vaccines aren't like other drugs that treat symptoms rather than prevent infection, where your body may become resistant to them over time... Actually, looking at it from a slightly different perspective, resistance to the vaccine (or the virus protein markers contained therein) is exactly the point: to make your body resistant to it so when those same markers are encountered "in the wild" your immune system already has the manual on how to deal with it.

    But hey, don't listen to me. I haven't exactly rushed out to get a vaccine either. :/

  9. I take the same approach to most medicine that you seem to. I rarely take any unless I really need it. Perhaps it's some sort of placebo, but I do feel that, when I need it, I respond better to two Advil than any of the people I know who take them more regularly.

    I also have responded poorly to flu shots in the past ~ they don't act the same as other vaccines for me, in that I genuinely feel like I have the flu for a week after taking one.

    That said, even though I subscribe to the "suck it up until it's serious" treatment plan, I have no deep faith in it and the evidence seems pretty strong that getting the flu shot is a Good Idea.

  10. The difference is that the "normal" seasonal flu is the same flu every year - it just mutates a little. That means that *almost* everybody has a partial immunity to it. Even if you never had a flu before you got anti-bodies via breast milk, if you were breast fed.

    No one has any immunity to swine flu, which means that without vaccine more people will get sick and possibly pass it on to people to whom it might be a life-or-death situation. I believe what "we" want to accomplish is called "herd immunity" in english.

    Also, if a lot of people get sick it causes more practical problems. For example - what if 50% of the profesors at your school is sick at the same time? Your lab partners? The garbage men?

    I was offered the vaccine for free through my job so I already got the first shot, and I encourage everyone else to get it too.

    Unless of course you are allergic to eggs, then it's a realy bad idea - and than is not something made up by the people in tin foil hats;-)

  11. I'm in the same camp you are with regard to h1n1 and medicine generally. Whether that makes us irrational, I have no idea.

  12. I've been one not to get the flu shots in the past under the rationale "if I get it, I get it. I'll be miserable for a week, but I'll get over it." Now that I'm back at school, I've gotten the seasonal (I think it saved me already as a friend of mine decided it'd be a good idea to hang out while being rather sick).

    I'm basically getting the vaxes as being better safe than sorry. I wish we had the hamthrax vax here, but we got 500 and the college of nursing and college of medicine get them.

  13. I've had all the usual vaccines, but never the flu one, and I've just been examining my reasons for that. Still not sure. I've had the flu twice, and forgive me, but if you were down for a couple of days, then it was a cold. The flu is horrible, painful, nasty, and if it doesn't kill you, you'll have at least a few days of wishing it did.

    I think it's to do with the fact that a new vaccine is required each year, it seems less directed than my mumps injection (for example) which Just Worked. And if the flu kills you, it's either because of an underlying condition, or because it's a world-wide epidemic that's going to kill millions of people anyway.

    I have no idea if this is rational ...

  14. I think you are being irrational. After all, you yourself say you "know it's a horrible habit, but" do 'it' anyway, which sound like a textbook definition of the word. On a side note, how would you "build up a tolerance to medication" in such a way as to decrease its effectiveness? I've never heard of such a mechanism, and I'd be curious to know more.

    To me, being a good skeptic means evaluating the evidence, and to do that I actually have to look it up. You talk about the media blowing things out of proportion and rightly so (the media is painfully sensationalistic) but the CDC and the WHO have easily-accessible webpages (both linked to from their frontpages- you don't even need to search) with all the information you could possibly need- including, if you wanted to dig through the CDC's MMWR and its archives, the raw numbers.

    For example, you say "it hasn't really killed people any more than the normal flu does", when the front page of the CDC's H1N1 site says, in its very first paragraph, "..flu-related hospitalizations and deaths continue to go up nation-wide and are above what is expected for this time of year." (from the CDC, ). Thus, the most basic research shows your initial claim to be, if not outright false, then deceptive. Sure, it hasn't killed more people than a normal seasonal flu does per year. That's because it hasn't had a year, not because it's not more virulent.

    And here's the thing that really bugs me, as a microbiologist, about the whole "I never have serious issues with the seasonal flu so why get a shot" argument: flu is contagious. Maybe the flu won't hit you that hard. Maybe it will only give you minor symptoms, and it isn't worth the hassle for you, personally, to get the vaccine. But haven't you heard of the herd effect? Getting the flu vaccine isn't something you do just for your personal health- you do it because, if you don't, you may well pass your "minor flu" on to someone else who won't be so lucky and that's misery, if not a death, that you could have prevented for, oh, about $10.

  15. Vaccines only work if you take them in time... that is, to *prevent* an illness. So confusing therapeutic medication with vaccination is irrational. To confuse something like taking Advil with receiving a vaccine is especially irrational.

    Vaccines only work if large portions of the population take them. So not taking them if you have contact with others is irrational.

    Vaccines are not designed to protect healthy immune systems for the most part. Even if you won't die from a case of swine flu, someone else who might catch it from you could. To ignore that risk is irrational.

    The diseases we vaccinate against in this country are ones that almost no one under 30 has encountered, so your immune system doesn't know how to protect you against them. So avoiding vaccination because your immune system is "strong" is not rational.

  16. Re: Fraser

    The reason you only need one mumps vaccine one time, when you need a new flu vaccine every year, has a lot more to do with the viruses themselves than the vaccines or how "directed" they are.

    Influenza evolves very, very quickly, due to mechanisms which are not shared by all viruses. The shot you got last year protected you against last year's flu just as well as your mumps shot protects you against the relatively few mumps strains out there- but flu, unlike mumps, is constantly evolving into new forms at very high speeds.

    One mechanism I find rather interesting is genome segmentation. Influenza has a segmented genome; mumps does not. This means what when an influenza virus infects a cell, its genome separates into segments which are then reproduced and reassebled before new virus particles exit the cell. The thing is, if you get two different influenza strains infecting one cell, they can swap segments, switching huge chunks of genome to create a new strains- which weren't covered by the previous vaccinations, because they didn't exist. I think it's pretty cool, in a vicious sort of way.

  17. I was way into woo before I became a godless heathen. Homeopathy, crystals, acupressure, essential oil, healing touch - all of it. On my journey out of faith I started basing my beliefs on evidence, and something else happened - the woo went away. I stopped at a health food store to get a smoothie and looked around - iridology? Bach flower remedies? Mega doses of herbs? None of it based on evidence. Nothing there for me anymore but snacks.

    To answer your question - I now base my personal and family medical decisions on the best and most objective evidence I can find. I'm aware of confirmation bias so I pay attention to where I get my info and often seek out a website with an opposing opinion just to check that I'm getting the whole picture.

    So, based on the best evidence I can find, I'm getting the H1N1 as soon as I can and signed permission for both my kids to get it at school. For all the reasons above - It seems to be one of the safest vaccine we have, it is effective, few side effects, the disease can be dangerous and deadly, it is contageous and new and we need some herd immunity -

    Mostly though because there is little solid evidence for NOT taking it. Analyze any reason anyone gives you for not doing it - it's mostly scare tactics, irrational statements, and globalized anecdotal evidence. As a skeptic and person of reason rather than a person of faith, it was a no-brainer.


  18. There won't be any "early detection" with you, right Jen. You won't go until you're at stage 5, right Jen. Let all those sissies go at stage 1.

  19. You're being irrational, but I understand where you are coming from. The media does have a tendency to make it sound like the world is ending any time something significantly dangerous comes up and, while dangerous things happen all the time, world-ending things... not so much.

    That said, as has been pointed out by a few others, while the media tends to get a bit ridiculous, I generally trust the WHO and the CDC. And all the data shows young people dieing of flu at over twice the rate they do in a normal year, and flu season JUST STARTED less than a month ago. Now, flu doesn't have a very high death rate (at least in young and healthy people) to begin with, so even more than doubling it still doesn't look like all that much to a casual observer. The problem is that flu's INFECTION rates are very high. Which is how seasonal flu kills 35000 a year in this country. This flu has even higher infection rates than seasonal flu because there is little to no immunity in the population.

    All of that is reason enough for me to get a flu vaccine, mainly to be one less person spreading it. This isn't just an abstract concept for me either--I interact with 2 different pregnant people on a regular basis. Pregnancy + flu = very bad. Hopefully both of those women will get the vaccine themselves as well, but just in case it doesn't take, or they have a weakened immune system, I don't mind a prick in the arm to prevent myself from endangering them and their babies.

    Also, it's only October. There is still a SLIGHT chance that one recombination event (damn segmented genome) could happen to make this flu a little more deadly. It is a bit late for a 1918-ish situation, but hell, if this got anywhere in the vicinity of that, it would collapse the health systems in many places. There are some isolated areas already where ERs are being seriously overrun with flu patients--if that got more widespread, I wouldn't want to risk getting sick with anything, so I'd be very glad to have had my shot.

    Now that all that long-windedness is out of the way, an aside-- I grew up surrounded by SERIOUS woo beliefs with regard to medicine. My mother and grandparents sold MAGNETS that supposedly can cure EVERYTHING. My grandfather is an anti-vaxxer--we had some VERY tense conversations when I worked in a vaccine lab. My mother thinks that the evil doctors who gave her mother chemo for her breast cancer were just killing her faster. And then there was a lot of garden-variety anything-natural (supplements!) -is-good, while everything-"unnatural"-is-bad. My best friend spent her child being forced on to weird diets and supplements by her mother to correct her behavior problems that her mother thought were caused by vague "food allergies" and nutritional deficiences instead of the actual diagnosis, textbook ADHD (which, for crying out loud, can be treated with behavioral interventions if you are that strongly against drugs).

    All of which is to say, woo is bullshit and pisses me off. I have seen way too many people hurt/exploited by it, so I probably have less patience with woo-y beliefs than I should.

  20. You can be skeptical of media hype all you want, and it may be justified, but that doesn't mean you should throw the baby out with the bathwater, as they say.

    Even if it is true that the H1N1 flu is not much more severe than the normal flu, that doesn't mean you still shouldn't vaccinate against it. Yeah, it's only "5 days of being laid out" with a fever and feeling miserable, and afterward you recover. But that is 5 days of being miserable that are unnecessary. The flu shot decreases you chance of having that, and only costs maybe a sore arm for a day, which is non-debilitating. Moreover, although the risk is pretty small, there is a non-zero risk of a very serious problem (which is bigger than the risk of a very serious vaccine complication).

    So hype aside, "It's not as bad as the media is making it out to be" is not a reason to not get vaccinated. The question is, "Is the risk of illness and what it involves greater than the cost of the vaccine (in terms of $$$ and complications)?" To that end, the answer is trivially yes. So get the vaccine.

  21. BTW, I forgot to mention, the other thing about having the flu is that you are at risk of spreading it to others, who can spread it to others, who can spread it to others.

    By vaccinating, you can stop the chain. So if you are thinking about others besides yourself, get vaccinated.

  22. I admit, Jen, that until this semester I thought like you did down to a tee on every point you made. But since beginning blogging and having my consciousness raised about woo in a way it wasn't before by hanging out so much around the skeptic community, I realized that it's a foolish way of thinking and so have changed my mind. I realized a big part of it was a wishful thinking that I was an iron man. The mistake is to make a moral ideal of being an iron man based on a false notion of toughness and then act as though you ARE that iron man (or iron woman in your case) when you actually are not.

    No more basing my ethics on a fantasy of the human ideal when that ethical ideal is a medically or scientifically stupid one.

  23. I do think there is a certain irrationality to the way you're behaving, although it may not be that severe. Personally, I've never been one of those "suck it up and deal with it" people - if I have a symptom, and there's a drug that can fix it, you can bet I'm going to use the drug... however, I don't think that's really relevant to vaccination.

    You have to know something about herd immunity - the larger a proportion of the population is vaccinated, the harder it is for the disease to spread. Pretty elementary.

    For the record, I have a very severe phobia of needles and as a result I rarely get vaccinated for things like seasonal flu. However, they have a nasally administered version of the H1N1 vaccine and I opted for that as soon as it was made available to me. It just doesn't make sense not to.

  24. The one thing I haven't seen people talk about is an argument someone gave me earlier. I was explaining how vaccinations work and why they are a good thing.

    His reasoning for not supporting vaccinations? I'm paraphrasing here: Death is a good thing. It's okay if they get sick and die. It's the way life goes. So he's not getting a vaccine for this reason. If he gets sick he doesn't care. And if he does and passes it on, so be it. If they die, that's their own biology's fault.

  25. Why we immunize is a useful post to read. It has history, statistics, and descriptions.

    BTW would he get the rabies shots if bitten by a suspected rabid animal? What about a tetanus shot if he steps on a rusty nail? Neither of these diseases are particularly pleasant methods of dying and the former is 100% fatal.

  26. This is hardly a contribution at this point, since I suspect it's been said before, but what most people think of as 'the flu' isn't the flu. It's an Upper Respiratory Tract Infection, or URTI. More cynical doctors refer to them as 'Unknown Respiratory Tract Infection.' These are the kind you treat with water and rest and just don't expose many people to them, no big deal.

    The Flu, influenza proper, will knock you on your back for a week and make you wish you were dead for two weeks. Seen it, it's not pretty. Getting vaccinated as a way to avoid this is actually a really good idea on principle, unless you don't have anything better to do.

    H1N1 is particularly nasty in its potential outcome, especially for people who are immunocompromised (know anyone who's prone to getting sick?), little kids, or elderly but born after about 1950. If you interact with any people like this, and you can't take a few weeks off from everything, you should probably get vaccinated. Herd immunity is everyone's responsibility, after all.

    I have a friend who caught Swine Flu. She had to stay at home for two full weeks, without contact. It drove her nuts, hurt her schoolwork, and hurt her position at work. So she's not super-happy about it.

    There you go. Repeated, retreaded facts I learned from someone smarter than me with expertise on the subject, a personal anecdote and a bit of depreciation. Hopefully it's useful despite that.

  27. Juste get vaccinated if you can, the risks are microscopic compared to the potential benefits. H1N1 has the capability of rapidly spreading throughout the population, and really, if we can avoid ANY extra deaths from the flu (in whatever form) it would be a good thing.

  28. I'm in the southern hemisphere, and this is a blog post from a local ER doctor on his experiences with H1N1. Pregnant women and the young seem to be at a higher risk over that of the normal flu.

  29. Fraser said...
    "And if the flu kills you, it's either because of an underlying condition, or because it's a world-wide epidemic that's going to kill millions of people anyway."

    This is flat out wrong. That's the whole point of immunization. To save your life. If every one was immunized, then millions would never die. Even if enough of the population (90% or so) were immunized, that would prevent the spread of the flu. As to the underlying conditions statement, that's also wrong. As pointed out by Talen Lee, this is a new virus to any one born after 1950 and potentially very, very dangerous to even those without underlying conditions in that category.

  30. You don't get the flu shot to protect yourself. You get the flu shot so that you're hopefully one less carrier to pass influenza along to a vulnerable population, and because it gets the community a bit closer to herd immunity.

    Getting H1N1 won't kill you, but it's not like it's fun to have. Most people I know can't really afford to be down for an entire week with a miserable fever. (And even if your case is mild, schools/work/etc want you quarantined for a week so you don't give it to everyone else.)

  31. As a side comment to Jeff Hope's response to Fraser ("And if the flu kills you, it's either because of an underlying condition..."), the World Health Organization says in their October 16 report on clinical manifestations of H1N1, "While people with certain underlying medical conditions, including pregnancy, are known to be at increased risk, many severe cases occur in previously healthy young people." So no, you don't need to have an underlying condition for serious side effects. That's a big chunk of what's unusual about this one.

  32. Jen: get the fucking shot, please.

    Don't do it for you, do it for everyone else. The simple fact of the matter is that vaccinations don't work unless most everyone gets it. We require a herd immunity. I had been considering not getting it for awhile, but then I remembered the simple fact that diseases spread through the weak of us. If everyone gets the shot, people may still get sick - but many fewer will, and the spread of H1N1 may lessen, or even end.

    Remember, vaccinations eradicated smallpox 50 years ago this week. We have a chance to stop H1N1 in its tracks.

  33. H1N1 is a case where the line between precaution and sensationalism is somewhat blurred.

    Remember SARS? SARS was not a pandemic because it was handled well (people quickly quarentened, et cetera). My understanding of why H1N1 is threatening is because of crossing over and such.

    Of course, the reason for precation is that there is a sort of trade-off in the disease world between transmission and virility.

    Ultimately, I think precaution should be taken, but we have made it to the level of sensationalism. This sensationalism is bad because the next pandemic may not have the necissary level of precaution.

    My advice, the shot will help with herd immunity, (if enough people get it) which will protect those who can't get the shot. The issue though is the high mutation rate of the flu. Ultimately, the decision for me comes down to money. If I can avoid it, I will do it. If I think it is a stretch, I won't. (I also think I came down with H1N1 over the summer because I did have flu-like symptoms, along with three other members of my family).

  34. My mother has been panicking about it, and I still havent gotten it, because Cincinnati has been hit hard with H1N1

  35. Jen - what do you think? We haven't heard back from you! Do any of the comments make sense or have you reconsidering?


  36. I definitely try not to use drugs or whatever panacea unless absolutely required. Like you, it has been a method that has worked thus far. Why change it?

  37. Well, because your circumstances have changed, Qow.

    I myself was raised by the son of a hypochondriac, which meant, growing up, unless I was literally physically debilitated by a disease or injury, I was just told to suck it up. It was rare to get time off school unless I could exhibit some very grotesque symptom, and I didn't take antibiotics until I was in my late teen years. Perhaps because of this, when I do take antibiotics, they take effect quickly and I often get a lot better faster. Of course, I therefore have to be sparing with them.

    But this is not just about yourself; this is about a disease that you can spread on to other people, and if you get it, you almost certainly will.

    'Why change' is best answered, I think with 'Because it's not just about YOU now.'

  38. While I generally take the seasonal flu shot anyway (mostly for herd immunity purposes, as elaborated on above by people more eloquent than myself), I consider H1N1 to be significantly more urgent.
    Generally, we think of the flu as being really dangerous only to the elderly or immuno-deficient. However, only 12% of H1N1 deaths in the US have been in folks aged 65+, as compared to almost 90% for seasonal flu.
    So who's picking up the slack? So far the majority of cases of H1N1 requiring hospitalization have been in people uder the age of 25, and nearly 1/4 of the deaths. Young, relatively healthy people are being severely affected. (Even worse - young, healthy, female people. I hate being in ah igh-risk group >_<)
    While I understand some reservations towards vaccination, in this case at least I would highly recommend that you thake the vaccine. Even if you're not the one who gets seriously ill, it could easily be somebody you know.
    Oh, and here are links to some press releases with the statistics/generalizations mentioned above:,,

  39. @Talen Lee: Taking antibiotics when you're ill has nothing to do with any personal resistance to them, and everything to do with the particular bacteria you're infected with. Whether or not you've taken one, six, or a dozen rounds of the same antibiotic in the past is completely irrelevant. It's only the bacteria that matters. There's no reason that antibiotics would effect you any differently than another person who has taken multiple rounds of antibiotics, if you are infected with the same bacteria. I suspect your claim that they work more quickly on you is due to the placebo effect.

    On that note, bacterial resistance and improper use of antibiotics is also not just about one person, but the people who will become infected with the resistant strain that might be produced due to one's own negligence.

  40. Great discussion. I echo much of what others are saying here, such as you probably haven't actually had the flu yet, its OK to be skeptical of the news, but not as good to be skeptical of the science, etc etc. Get the shot when it becomes available to you. If nothing else, think of this... Do you want to risk losing a week of classes and have to catch up in all your classes, especially physics? What if you get sick before a grad school interview, or while you are on it (latency of 1-2 days before onset of symptoms)? Go ahead and get the shot. You cannot get the flu from the shot. The shot uses a killed virus, and the nasal spray uses a weakened, replication incompetent virus. Neither will give you the flu. However, if you get exposed to the flu within two weeks of the shot, it won't protect you. It also won't protect you from any of the multitude of other viruses and bacteria that are out there.

    Because so many species can carry the flu, herd immunity isn't as protective as we would like it to be. Those little sparrows and finches all over campus could be carriers. They get hard to avoid.

    However, if you care for children, the elderly, work in a health care setting, being vaccinated can protect people who don't have those same exposures. I am hoping to get the shot ASAP so that I have less of a chance of passing an infection on to my dad, who isn't just elderly, he is olderly.

    The vaccine is a barrier between you and the virus, and you want as many barriers as you can get. Washing hands, keeping your hands out of your face, not sharing food or drink with anybody you aren't already kissing... all of these are barriers to infection. If you don't want to get the vaccine, why use a condom? Thats a barrier. Why bother being concerned that your food prep people wash their hands. You have an evolved immune system, after all. ;)

    Problem is, the virus is evolving with us, and it has a faster reproductive cycle. You need to prime your immune system to respond to the virus as soon as it shows up instead of playing catchup over a rather shitty several days.

    Your readers might enjoy my notes from my flu virus lecture that I give to my intro students, turned into a blog entry here.

    Robert B / @RobsterFCD

  41. Having had the Hamthrax...

    Everyone above is right. More than that? H1N1 is like no other flu or cold I've had. Sure, the symptoms were there, and I've had the flu before... but this one literally /put me down/ for five days. As in 'no getting up, barely able to shuffle to the fridge for fluids' putting down.

    I'm a reasonably healthy guy that's just outside of the demographic - and while we all know anecdote isn't really worth much, it's still an anecdote.

    Getting the shot keeps you from going through it, removes potential complications from something to which you are practically guaranteed to be exposed (given that you're in college) and ensures that you don't pass it on to others. Win, win, win.

  42. @Julie - You're almost certainly right. It's nice to feel like my childhood travails led to some kind of tangible benefit, but you are right that it's either a placebo effect, or that I have somehow a good response to antibiotics that I'd have regardless of exposure. What I think got lost in there is that I've done (and do!) the 'drought' approach to medical treatment, and I still think the vaccine is a really, really important move.

  43. I did an analysis of the spread of H1N1 over the first few weeks of establishment here in Florida (using data from our Bureau of Epidemiology) and I am none too concerned.

  44. The real worry here is herd immunity. This is one time where I think the silly overreaction to the media might be useful. You and I are young and healthy, so even if we do get the flu, we will, in all likelihood, be fine. The thing to remember is to not be around others if you get the flu this year. That is a rule every year, but especially true this year. Herd immunity is very low, so people who are at risk of dying from the flu are at great risk this year because they are more likely to come into contact with someone that has a flu strain to which they are not immune.

    As a student going to be around a lot of other people, you might want to get the vaccine. Not for yourself, but for everybody else.

  45. I agree with everyone else on the herd immunity point. This virus is novel in that we don't have many built-in defenses against it and it spreads rapidly enough that, were it to mutate into something more deadly, it would be devastating. And the chances of it mutating into something more deadly are good if vaccination rates are like 70%, as with Australia and the resurgence of polio due to the antivax campaigns.

    If for no other reason than as a way of keeping yourself from catching and transmitting the disease, you owe it to your friends and family to get the shot.

  46. I'm a healthy person in my early 40's. In theory I should be at the lowest risk for problems, I think, because I was alive during the last epidemic and am pretty young for that age group.

    I am writing this from exile in my bedroom due to probable H1N1. Over the last 5 days, I've felt sicker than I've been for the past 14 years - like The Standing Dragon, not getting out of bed sick (except for that dry-heaving, near fainting incident). I feel a little better today finally, but I'm still stuck here, unable to go to work or hug my kids or spend time with my husband because I don't want to get them sick. I've had a high fever, chills, cough, and every form of icky feeling you can imagine. I spent 2 days with no sense of thirst and no saliva in my mouth. I've missed my youngest daughter's Halloween party, my oldest daughter's indcution into an honor society, and don't even get me started on what responsibilities I'm missing at work. I still have a fever and a cough and an occasional excruciating headache that isn't touched by painkillers at all.

    This was more than just a little sick, and I'm more than just a little stir-crazy from being cooped up in self-isolation for a week.

    Do what you want, but I'd get the shot. Not because you will die if you get the flu (you probably won't), but because you will feel really, really crappy and miss a lot of important things.

    Oh, and did I mention that I teach on a college campus? I'm pretty sure that's where I got it.

  47. I don't intend to have the shot unless it becomes mandatory, which it might well. My country is making a pig's ear (ha!) out of the programme, and I don't want to take a vax away from a more deserving case. Not scared of the vax, though, and with an upcoming colonoscopy I have something else to worry about (we do all scopies by the brute-force method here, no sedation).

    Me, I'm very low-risk. I'm 56, which means I would have caught the 1957 outbreak; I never get flu/URTI (possibly because I believe myself immune?) and live and work alone, so am not that relevant to herd immunity. If I'm wrong, I die, but probably won't take anyone with me.

    Amused and glad to see the flight from woo here.

  48. Remember, herd immunity is everyone's responsibility