Archive for Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Gearing up defenses for annual flu season

Publisher’s Notebook

October 13, 2004

I couldn't believe my ears.

A week ago, as I was driving home after we'd "put the newspaper to bed," I heard on the radio that the nation's flu vaccine supply would be about half of what would be needed this winter. I must admit that I selfishly thought first about myself.

I'm one of those people who's had a flu shot every fall for years. I'm proud of that. And although many folks believe flu shots are total bunk and completely worthless, I contend they have kept me healthy at times others around me have fallen ill. Ask anyone who knows me: I smugly tout the wonders of flu shots, and I try to convince everyone to get one.

But now, I'm in a quandary, along with all of those other folks out there who don't fall into a priority group -- elderly people, babies, a woman who plans to become pregnant, nursing home residents, health-care workers or someone who has a chronic medical condition.

I've now gotten over myself. My concerns now are with all of those people who are members of one of those priority groups. There's a reason they're in those groups, and it's because the flu could be deadly for them or they're exposed to the flu many times a day.

Two of Tonganoxie's three physicians say they have no hope of obtaining flu vaccines before flu season rolls into town. And Dr. Bill Weatherford says, understandably, that he's holding his doses in reserve for his patients who are in the target groups. If he's able to secure more, which he says he's hopeful about, he says he'll offer the shots to non-patients.

Dr. Philip Stevens, who's practiced in Tonganoxie since 1955, reminds us that if we catch the flu, we can take an anti-viral treatment that will lessen its impact. But who wants to suffer with a 101-degree temperature just for the privilege of taking a treatment.

As Stevens says: "You can treat it now. But of course you'd rather not get it."

Amen.

It's so ironic that public health officials in the United States have preached for years about the benefits of flu shots. They've expanded their guidelines to include more people -- younger people, healthier people. The number of flu clinics has increased. Heck, you can pick up flu shot, along with a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread at the grocery store.

But no more.

For the past week, I've been preparing myself to go into flu season -- which usually peaks in January and February -- without my vaccine safety net. I'll wash my hands more often. I'll drink more orange juice. I'll stay away from crowds. I'll sleep at least seven hours every night. I'll sneeze into my sleeve, instead of my hand, and encourage my co-workers to do the same.

If you're a member of a priority group, please consider getting a flu shot.

And if you and I run into each other out on the sidewalk in front of Bichelmeyer's or at the post office, please don't be offended if I don't shake your hand.

Take care of yourselves, and stay healthy, Tonganoxie.

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