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675,000 reasons why flu vaccines are nothing you should sneeze at

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POSTED January 18, 2013 10:45 p.m.

So how good do we have it today?

There was a time when the words “flu epidemic” struck fear into the hearts of every man.

Today we virtually scoff at flu. We even debate the wisdom of flu shots.

How lucky we are.

Back in 1918 there were 675,000 Americans — the population of San Joaquin County today — who probably wish they had the luxury of debating the pros and cons of taking flu shots. That’s the number that died from Spanish Flu during the Great Flu Pandemic of 1918. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources put the global death toll at 50 million, or 3 percent of the world’s population at the time. That particular strain of flu was deadliest among healthy adults between the ages of 20 and 50.

Manteca did not escape the ravages of the flu in 1918.

When the first case was reported in Manteca, people demanded action. On Nov. 1, 1918 the City Council passed a law requiring anyone on city streets to wear a mask. Not doing so would result in a $100 fine. That would be the equivalent of levying a $4,000 fine today.

Things got worse. Soon all public gatherings were prohibited. Schools were closed. Church services were discontinued.

Classrooms at the old two-story Yosemite School were turned into hospital wards. Teachers stayed there around the clock to care for the sick.

By the time February 1919 rolled around, no new flu cases were being reported. The final tally showed that almost half of the Manteca population was stricken with the flu. There were only three deaths.

To argue flu shots aren’t effective at keeping the death toll and count of the sick down is absurd. Even if you don’t get a flu shot, you benefit by the fact many others have. That helps reduce the spread of the virus.

The success of flu shots — and vaccines for a wide variety of ailments that once terrorized Americans ranging from whooping cough to polio — has created a “who-needs-it” attitude among many.

Some go as far as saying vaccines are ineffective.

That’s true, to a degree. It can take some flu vaccines a full two weeks before they reach maximum effectiveness after being administered. And there are those one in a million cases of something backfiring as in the case of polio vaccines.

But based purely on the odds, our chances of avoiding and — if we do get infected — surviving a bout of the flu is enhanced significantly.

Vaccines do keep serious diseases in check. The latest evidence of that was the resurgence in whopping cough cases when parents decided their kids didn’t need to be immunized. That is what triggered the mandatory vaccine requirements last year in California for school-aged children.

Then there are those who just can’t be bothered with the inconvenience even if the immunizations are provided for free through insurance or public health clinics

There are countless parents around the globe who would gladly switch places with them. When Rotary International conducted free polio clinics in The Philippines, some people traveled two days with their children to get them the free vaccines.

The reason was simple. They saw firsthand other children who had their legs paralyzed for life after contracting polio.

As much as we moan and groan, most of us have it pretty good today in terms of our health care.

It has given us the luxury of worrying about extremely rare ways of dying — such by a crazed gunman — instead of what was once a high probability of being killed by the spread of a common virus.

 

This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209-249-3519.

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