Ebola vs. Flu Concerns

Over the past few weeks, I have run into a number of folks who seem to be very concerned about the Ebola epidemic.

In fact, just the other day someone told me that he was staying awake at night worrying about the Ebola crisis and how it might be migrating to America.

Concerns about Ebola are understandable. The Ebola virus is an extremely deadly disease that can cause flu-like symptoms and internal bleeding and often results in death, particularly in developing countries where advanced medical treatments are not readily available.

But the odds of a person contracting Ebola are low. Contracting Ebola involves being in direct contact with bodily fluids from a person who is already exhibiting symptoms of the disease, so the risk for the general population is quite low.

Being overly concerned about contracting Ebola doesn’t seem practical in my book. It makes a lot more sense to be concerned about the more realistic threats to our health and our lifestyles.

While it may not seem as frightening as Ebola, the common influenza virus can be very deadly and spreads much more easily, via direct and airborne transmission, and via hand-to-eye, hand-to-nose, and hand-to-mouth transmissions. But fortunately, preventing the flu is something we can do something about.

Prevention is as simple as getting an annual flu shot at your doctor’s office, health clinic, local pharmacy, or in many instances, your place of employment. Having medical insurance can reduce the cost of the shot to nothing, but even for those who have to pay out of pocket, the average $20 cost of the vaccine will more than pay for itself in terms of assuring good health and reducing absenteeism from work.

Even so, many folks are afraid of getting the flu shot to prevent influenza, and it’s reasonable to wonder why. While there is probably not one simple reason, there do seem to be a good many misconceptions floating around. One is that many people actually contract the flu as a result of having the flu shot. Other false notions are that that the flu shot actually does no good, that it is virtually ineffective, and/or that getting a flu shot is playing into some grand governmental conspiracy.

And, of course, there’s no getting around the fact that some people have a genuine fear of needles and simply don’t handle getting shots – of any kind – well at all.

But those who don’t get their annual flu shot are playing Russian roulette, in a sense, because the flu virus, once inside the body, is highly contagious and highly debilitating. The flu can be especially dangerous if you are in the high risk category, as are the elderly, very young children, and women who are pregnant.

People who have heart issues or who suffer from chronic illnesses or immune deficiencies are particularly at risk. In those cases, contracting the flu can be not only inconvenient, but also potentially life-threatening.

And even for those who are not in the high risk category, who can afford to be out of work for a week or more once the virus settles in? While most people who get the flu recover in about a week, it often takes several more until the patient feels like him or herself again.

People living today have no memory of the flu pandemic of 1918 that took as many as 50 million lives around the world. But it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that a flu epidemic in this country could take the lives of tens of thousands of people either directly or as a result of complications after the fact.

Getting an annual flu shot should give all of us a high degree of confidence that we’ll be able to make it through the upcoming flu season relatively unscathed.

In Good Health,

Greg Dent