Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Whining About Swine Flu

I’m sick of hearing about the swine flu. I’m sick of trying to sort out whether or not to force my kids (who adamantly don’t want it) to be vaccinated. I’m tired of hearing statistics that don’t mean anything floating out there all alone and tired of the relentless fear-mongering going on in the press. I can see both sides. Clearly. Probably too clearly, that’s what’s making it all so confusing for me. I hope you are safely in the land of decision, knowing exactly what you must do for yourself and your kids. Me, I’m still in limbo land changing my mind moment by moment.

I wish there weren’t kids involved, because then this would be easy. I’ve never gotten a flu vaccination and haven’t gotten the flu since I was a kid. Plus, I don’t like needles. Easy call. But then there’re the kids. They’ve never gotten the flu either, but one of the kids has asthma. So I have recurring nightmares of standing in the ER as he gasps for breath and the nurse says incredulously, “You didn’t have him vaccinated for the swine flu?”

I’m not going to tell you what you should do. And I’m not going to tell you what I’m going to do (and not just because I don’t know). But I am going to share with you some of the information I’ve gathered from reading the NIH and CDC websites, Natural Health websites, conversations with MD’s, and conversations with people who have much more information and solid opinions on the matter.

But first I have to say that the fear and panic being ramped up by the media and encouraged by the school districts makes me nuts. I realize there are lives at stake here, but we’re talking about the flu. I wish the media would get as whipped up about poverty, AIDS, cancer, or malaria, since more kids die of that daily than will die from this flu all year. Today in the paper there was an article about the danger of alcohol poisoning killing children because we are pushing them to use antibacterial hand soap twenty times a day. Apparently, these soaps are 60% alcohol, making them a serious threat to children who ingest them. Something else to worry about. And the New York Times reported that college students are being asked to refrain from playing “beer pong” so they don’t spread germs. Call me stupid, but if alcohol kills germs, won’t a germ laden ping pong ball landing in your beer be rendered benign instantly? Or how about the churches telling everyone to stop passing the peace through handshakes – too dangerous. This whole thing is getting out of hand – literally.

Back to the facts and opinions I have gathered. Here’s one not so comforting tidbit about the swine flu vaccine itself –

FDA licensure means that the government has certified the vaccine is made properly and meets specific manufacturing and quality standards. Separately, the National Institutes of Health is studying the vaccine dosage and safety. Last week, the NIH announced that one dose appears to protect adults — and that that protection kicks in eight to 10 days after the shot.Studies in children and pregnant women are continuing.
(as reported in national press September 15, 2009)

I’m a little alarmed by the fact that certifying a vaccine only involves how it is made and not how it works, or more importantly if it has ill effects. Add to that the language that “one dose appears to protect” – my kids appear to have brushed their teeth and taken a shower when most mornings that is not the case. If the studies in children and pregnant women are continuing, does that mean our children part of that study?

The side effects from the shot aren’t too bad –

Soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given
Fever (low grade)

It’s the side effects from the nasal spray that worry me –
runny nose
muscle aches

That sounds a little like the flu, so if my kids get vaccinated, I’m opting for the shot. After quizzing several doc friends about this, that was their recommendation also. My kids didn’t appreciate their recommendation.

OK, and about this word, “pandemic” that seems to be freaking people out -

The World Health Organization has declared swine flu to be a pandemic. That means that all nations can expect to see swine flu infections -- and should prepare for them -- but does not mean the virus has become more severe. The word "pandemic" refers to the geography of a disease, not to the severity of a disease.

Just so we’re clear on this. It’s not an epidemic, it’s pandemic.

And Consumer Reports sighted one of the best reasons I’ve found to get vaccinated:
The most important aspect of immunization is that everyone who gets vaccinated is less likely to spread the disease. "That may not be a benefit to you directly," says Santa from Consumer Reports, "but it is to your family and your community. And if you're a health worker, a teacher, or a child-care worker, your immunity could save children and families a lot of hardship, serious illnesses, and possibly lives."

Web MD had some other information about the swine flu:
Flu bugs can survive for hours on surfaces. One study showed that flu viruses can live for up to 48 hours on hard, nonporous surfaces such as stainless steel and for up to 12 hours on cloth and tissues. The virus seems to survive for only minutes on your hands -- but that's plenty of time for you to transfer it to your mouth, nose, or eyes.
Studies of the swine flu virus show that it is more infectious to lung cells than are seasonal flu viruses. But studies also suggest that the swine flu virus is less well adapted to humans and may be harder to inhale deep into the lungs.

I have found a silver lining to all this hysteria about the swine flu. It’s an excellent opportunity to educate our children about our immune systems and why it’s so important to practice healthy living. The natural health websites may be full of righteous anger about the pressure to immunize our children, but they are also a wealth of information on how to keep our children healthy whether or not we choose to vaccinate.

I’ve taken advantage of my children’s campaign to avoid the flu shot by talking to them about preventative measures like:

Get plenty of sleep – lack of sleep wears down your immune system

Eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, probiotics – all of these foods will boost your immune system

A couple other foods I will work hard to incorporate in to our diets more over the next few months are coconut oil which is one of the best foods for your immune system (see my post of July 8, 2009) and garlic which was sited again and again as a preventative against the flu. Of course, I love coconut oil and garlic, so this won’t be a stretch for me.

Exercise every day, even if there isn’t soccer practice.

Take vitamins, particularly extra vitamin C and getting plenty of vitamin D by getting out in the sunshine (even if there isn’t soccer practice)

Wash your hands frequently (and properly) and keep your hands (and fingers) out of your noses, mouths, and eyes.

Drink lots of hot beverages and/or gargling with warm salt water – this is a recommendation on several natural health websites. The hot liquid helps to kill flu germs that are taking up residence in your mouth and throat. My husband also tells me this is something the Chinese practice – they drink hot water regularly to protect their health. I drink hot tea all day long and while I worry about what it might be doing to my teeth, I do think it helps me stay healthy.

Reduce your stress level – Emotional and psychological stress can wear down your immune system, as can a negative attitude.

In the end this decision belongs firmly in the hands of the parent. Don’t let helpful neighbors, family, or friends (or bloggers) tell you want to do. All my surfing and questioning has led me to believe that you can find plenty of support for vaccinating and plenty of support for not vaccinating. Someone once told me that if you’re having trouble making a decision you should write both possibilities on slips of paper and mix them up and choose one. When you read the one you selected you will either be relieved or upset and that is your answer. You already know what you want to do, so trust yourself.


  1. Nice post, Cara. We all need a 'welcome to reality' check on this swine flu craze.

  2. great post! I myself was on the fence about the shot for the kids. I have decided to get it given Aidan's asthma and the higher risk for him. I saw him in the PICU once, never want to see that again. After talking with a bunch of the docs I work with they all agree and are giving their kids the shot as well.

    Take care -