Why We Still Get the Flu
This winter, media reports of early influenza (flu) deaths in American and British children sparked a panic that is spreading throughout the United States and the world. People are currently rushing to get flu shots to try to prevent this virus, which can be temporarily debilitating and even lead to death (1). With readily available flu vaccination and medication, it is a wonder that the flu is still an extant disease. In fact, in any given year, the flu kills about 15 million people world wide, more people than are killed by AIDS, lung cancer, and heart disease combined (2). With so much modern medical technology, why is it that we are still getting the flu?
Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is a virus that infects the trachea (windpipe) or bronchi (breathing tubes) (1). Strains of the flu may belong to one of three different influenza virus families, A, B, or C (3). Symptoms include high fever, chills, severe muscle aches, headache, runny nose, and cough. Complications can lead to pneumonia. Those most at risk of dying from the flu or contracting complications include asthmatics, people with sickle cell disease, people with long-term diseases of the heart, kidney, or lungs, people with diabetes, those who have weakened immunity from cancer or HIV/AIDS, children on long-term aspirin therapy, women who are on their second or third trimester of pregnancy, children under the age of nine, and adults over the age of 50 (1).
Flu shots may be a miracle of modern technology, but they are not received by everyone. The flu is a world-wide problem. While Americans spend $2 billion treating and preventing the flu every year, those countries known as the Third or Developing World simply cannot afford such a luxury (2). Even relatively wealthy countries cannot give the flu shot to everyone. Most Singaporeans are being urged to wait to get their flu shots until they have been administered to the more susceptible groups such as children and the elderly, and to health care workers and those traveling to parts of the globe where the flu season is at its worst, such as the United States and Britain (4). The United States, too, has not until recently been able to offer the flu shot to everyone. During the winters of 2001-2002 and 2002-2003, the US did not have enough influenza vaccines to administer to all of its residents, so the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) asked healthy Americans to wait until those who were more vulnerable to the virus had a chance to get vaccinated (5).
Even those who are able to obtain flu shots often do not take advantage of them. For example, even though the flu triggers asthma attacks, studies suggest that only 8.9% of all people with asthma receive flu shots (6). In 2001, only 67% of people aged 65 years and over, another at-risk group, received the shot despite the fact that it is covered by Medicare (3). This flu season, even though many experts are recommending that most...