Flu shots reduce deadly risk for entire community

The OlympianFebruary 28, 2014 

FILE - Registered Nurse Lynne Hummel gives a flu shot in 2010 as part of an afternoon clinic at Ralph's Thriftway in Olympia. (The Olympian file, 2010)

STEVE BLOOM — The Olympian

The story of Trent Swanson, reported in this newspaper last week, should cause everyone who hasn’t gotten a flu shot to run, not walk, down to the nearest clinic. The 36-year-old Winlock man discovered that influenza can be a deadly disease.

Swanson stopped getting flu shots several years ago. But when the virus attacked him in January, he began spitting up blood and struggling to breathe. He nearly died. After spending weeks in St. Peter Hospital, he has finally recovered.

Swanson’s father, Bruce, is confident his son will be getting an annual flu shot from now on.

“We’ve learned a lot from the process. It’s really an awakening when you see someone you love or a good friend laying in a bed like he is knowing what a strong person he was.” Swanson’s father said.

Unfortunately, that lesson came too late for some Thurston County residents. Health authorities have reported two deaths so far this year, and dozens of hospitalizations.

In Pierce County, influenza has killed six people so far and caused more than 138 hospitalizations. It’s not unheard of for flu victims to be placed on ventilators, require induced paralysis and dialysis sessions for failing kidneys. They can be reduced to eating through tubes.

Some people dismiss the seriousness of the disease because they often self-diagnosis a heavy cold or other viral infection as the flu. But people who have actually had influenza, even at the lowest level of infection, know the difference.

The value of getting a flu shot every fall goes far beyond your own personal protection. Those who don’t get a flu shot put their entire community at risk.

The concept of “community immunity” is how the world has eradicated major killer diseases. Vaccines have eliminated smallpox, which killed more than 500 million people, and has nearly vanquished polio, which paralyzed 16,000 Americans as recently as the 1950s.

When more people get immunized, the risk factor diminishes for everyone. And that reduces the cost of public health and the health care system in general.

The South Sound flu season peaks in February and March, but the state health department says it’s never too late to get immunized. There’s nothing to fear because, contrary what someone might have said, you can’t get the flu from a flu shot. At worst, you get a sore arm.

And remember, according to health department experts, if you think you had the flu and it wasn’t any big deal, it probably wasn’t the flu.

Get immunized today, and help protect the rest of us.

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