Tuesday, October 27, 2009

On H1N1 (aka Swine Flu)

Peter Budaj has swine flu. That's right, even NHLers like the Colorado Avalanche goaltender are at risk.

Will NHL players and staff be getting the H1N1 vaccine?

Although the NHL and other sports leagues are said to be monitoring the situation, they have yet to release any widespread policy on the matter. I assume each NHL team will be following the advice of its doctors. But why should NHLers get the H1N1 vaccine? After all, they don't usually get the seasonal flu shot either.

Here are a few reasons why I think NHL players and staff, and YOU should get the H1N1 vaccine.

  1. It tends to affect otherwise healthy and younger individuals. Like professional hockey players.

  2. It's a pandemic that's spread more easily through close contact and in contained spaces. Like locker rooms, team buses and airplanes.

  3. It can spread pretty rapidly, even through carriers who might not get sick. In the case of an NHL team, think of the thousands of employees who work in a building like the Bell Centre, from hockey staff to administration to concessions to broadcast TV technicians and reporters. That's a lot of people to potentially infect, and they in turn can infect all of their friends and families.

  4. Getting swine flu blows. I have yet to see a comment from someone who's had swine flu recommending for people NOT to get the vaccine. Even the mild cases can leave you bed-ridden for approximately 5 days. As much fun as it can be to play hooky, who wants to be stuck sick in bed for that long?
Heck, even health officials for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics are encouraging all athletes, staff and volunteers to get inoculated!

Yesterday, I posted a story about H1N1 vaccines and prevention on my Facebook page, stating that I am going to get vaccinated as soon as I can (Nov. 23) because I have a chronic illness (asthma). Immediately, comments started pouring in from people from different demographics, discussing why they would or wouldn't be getting the shot.

One has a needle phobia. Understandable. I've gotten used to getting pricked, but for most people, it's no fun. However, she also lives in a dorm. Again, close contact increases the chances of getting infected. Even if your whole network gets vaccinated, they might still be carriers of the disease and you, without the proper antibodies to fight off H1N1, can still get sick.

One family doesn't usually get the seasonal flu shot and won't be getting this one either. Not because it's not effective, really, but mostly because it's just been developed. What about long term side-effects? Medical experts and health officials have confirmed that the H1N1 vaccine is very much like the seasonal flu vaccines and side-effects should be just as limited.

What about Guillain-Barré syndrome? This auto-immune response is said to have caused deaths in the previous round of vaccinations against an influenza similar to H1N1 decades ago. However, the chances of getting Guillain-Barré syndrome are approximately 1 per 100,000, whether or not you actually get vaccinated. Plus, if you've ever been vaccinated against meningitis, which most of us have, you've already taken the risk of developing this disease.

There are reportedly nurses at a Canadian hospital that have refused to get the vaccine. If a case of H1N1 breaks out on their floor, they will all be sent home. Why wouldn't they get vaccinated? It's a personal choice and I'm sure they have their reasons. Still, by not getting inoculated, I feel that they are being irresponsible, putting their patients at risk and reducing the availability of health care professionals in the case of a local pandemic.

One person mentioned that his father is a doctor and has helped him dispel some of the confusion. He always gets his seasonal flu shot and will be getting the H1N1 vaccine as well. The one-in-a-million chance of complications from the vaccine goes head-to-head with a one-in-ten chance of complications from H1N1, he says. As he points out, the vaccine is tested, is safe, and the potential side-effects are minimal compared to the impact of swine flu on your health.

I might not always get my seasonal flu shot, but I always plan to. Even if you don't usually consider getting the seasonal vaccine, you should consider getting the H1N1 vaccine. It's a different strain and it affects different types of people than you'd usually expect. And sure, there's been hype over the numbers of swine flu-related deaths and the pandemic state of the disease. But the fact remains that swine flu is much tougher on your body, even if you are healthy.

Everyone's entitled to their opinion, to be sure, but take the time to research the facts on the vaccine for yourself. Don't just listen to what everyone else is saying. Talk to your doctor, but remember that his or her personal opinion will also affect his/her professional opinion.

Only you can make this decision. It's your life, your future, your well-being. Don't screw up.

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