There are still very few infections here, but official estimates that a third of Canadians could catch the H1N1 flu certainly have a way of catching one’s attention. The advent of the expected second wave of swine flu has resulted in an epidemic of information, some of it contradictory.
Minds have not been eased, for example, by an unpublished study suggesting regular flu vaccinations actually increase vulnerability to H1N1, and another that found no evidence that all our obsessive hand-washing does a bit of good against the piggy sniffles.
That’s science, always asking and doubting, but our policy makers don’t have that luxury. They have to answer the question of what we do right now.
So, in Ottawa, seasonal shots are recommended for seniors starting next week. They are thought to have more to fear from the regular flu, which kills a few thousand every year. Then come swine flu vaccinations, prioritized for risk, and only after that a late round of regular flu shots for the rest of us. All of this is of course subject to change, and that too heightens anxiety.
We’re being assured that the H1N1 vaccine will be here in early November, when the virus is already expected to be well underway. The federal government dismisses reports that it could be late November or early December.
Then there are the jab-sceptics. They remember the U.S.’s massive 1976 swine flu vaccination campaign, which resulted in cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS), some of which were fatal. The expected pandemic never came. My grandfather’s one of the refuseniks. He’s immersed himself in reading, some of it dubious, about possible side-effects, and wants nothing to do with the new flu shot. We worry, because he lives in a retirement residence, that his convictions may put his neighbours at risk.
I have to admit to being a little edgy myself, because I read too many newspapers. I’m in the age group that seems to get sicker from the bug, and I’ve got a crummy pair of lungs. Every time someone coughs near me, I stiffen. Then I catch myself. It’s hardly helpful to get so flu-obsessed that we start to see each other primarily as disease vectors.
It’s important to keep perspective. Since the beginning of September, 13 people have tested positive for H1N1, only two were hospitalized and one, who also had chronic medical conditions, died.
So we wash our hands, sneeze into our sleeves (while trying not to stare at everybody’s nasty sleeves), stay home if we get sick, and wait it out.