Ah … Fall.
Some people mark the beginning of fall by the calendar date, the changing of the leaves, others by the start of the World Series. Me? Fall begins when the shipment of flu vaccine arrives in the office.
Fall came last Friday in a pretty package containing 160 doses of flu vaccine.
Influenza. The Flu. Most people use the term “flu” synonymously with “cold”. The two are very different.
I’ll never forget the first (and only) time I had Influenza. It was January, 2000. I was heading back to medical school after the Christmas holidays. While on the train, I started getting a scratchy, sore throat. I woke up the next morning, feeling like I got hit by a truck. Within 6 hours, I had a fever of 39.8C (103.5F), my entire body was wracked with rigors, my head felt like it was going to explode. My friends watched me deteriorate in class, apparently I looked weaker and paler by the minute and someone took pity on me and drove me home. That night, I slept on the couch and watched re-runs of “The X-Files”. I had to change clothes at least once very 2 hours due to drenching sweats. My roommate called her mother who was a family physician and offered me an anti-viral, but I was pretty incoherent from the fever and declined. In retrospect, I probably should have taken it. The next day was no better, and there was no way I could go to class, so I basically lived on that couch for a few days. Tylenol, Advil and Gatorade were my friends. By the end of the week, the fever had broken, the muscle aches were gone, but I was left with a horrible cough which lasted about 4 weeks. (Turns out I also got bronchitis after that).
Did I mention that was the first year I’d gotten the flu shot?
Riight, so it was also the year that I had influenza, bronchitis and laryngitis, pretty much back to back. It was also the first year I trekked back and forth inside a hospital to get to my classes. Such a glamorous life that was. (I secretly loved it). I had never been that sick for that long. It’s interesting to note that I haven’t been that sick since! Obviously, I contracted a different viral strain which the flu shot didn’t protect me from. It happens. I was young (hey, still am!) so was able to fight the virus. The extremes of age often aren’t so lucky when it comes to influenza.
It wasn’t always the case though. The great flu pandemic of 1918 wiped out close to 50 million people. The Spanish Flu decimated the world’s population (then, 1.36 billion) in a little over a year. Most victims were healthy young adults, in contrast to most influenza outbreaks, which predominantly affect juvenile, elderly, or weakened patients (from Wikipedia). Its been said that the Spanish Flu was deadlier than the Black Death and in fact, this flu killed more people in 24 weeks than AIDS has killed in 24 years, more in a year than the Black Death killed in a century!
Remember H1N1? Much ado about nothing, in my opinion. Not to be nihilistic, but we ain’t seen nothing yet. The big one is coming. I don’t know when, I don’t know how, but we’re due for a real pandemic again.
So, I got my flu shot again.