Thursday, May 14, 2009

Disturbing results of a recent survey

According to a new poll by Zogby / University of Texas: 
  • Only 30% of Americans would get a vaccine against the H1N1 "swine flu" virus, if one were available.
This shows that we aren't getting the message across to the majority of Americans: This virus may appear relatively mild right now, but we can't trust it to remain so.  The first wave of infections caused by the 1918 pandemic flu virus was also mild... and then it went on to kill tens of millions of people in a world of only 1.8 billion.  We don't know that the same thing will happen with this virus, but we also don't know that it won't.  If a protective vaccine becomes available, take it.  Immediately.
  • A whopping 38% of those surveyed managed to combine ALL of the following: Not vaccinated against the flu, not practicing good hygiene, and not restricting travel or mall shopping.
Now, I'm not too concerned about that last part at the moment.  Healthy people aren't being encouraged to curtail their social interactions right now.  But unvaccinated people who practice poor personal hygiene (e.g. they don't wash their hands regularly) aren't only putting themselves at risk: they're gambling with everybody's health.  By making choices that make them more likely to become infected, they are also increasing the risk that they'll pass that infection on to someone else.

Which is why the next bullet is so striking:
  • "The same was true of 25% of health care workers polled, 28% of caregivers in nursing homes and 33% of those whose children are vulnerable due to asthma, diabetes, or HIV. Particularly concerning is that only 48% of these children were vaccinated." (emphasis added)
Now, you might be thinking: "Yes, but maybe these people would vaccinate if there were an H1N1 vaccine; this is just how they react to the 'regular' flu, after all."

To which I respond:
  1. These people all provide care to those who are at high risk of severe complications (including death) from "regular" seasonal flu.  
  2. Are you forgetting the poor hygiene issue?  Handwashing, good cough/sneeze etiquette, and the like are not just for special occasions.  They save lives every day.
These groups have a special responsibility as care providers to ensure that they are not putting their patients (or high-risk children!) in danger through their own negligence.  Some of those parents may not know any better, but none of the healthcare workers / nursing home caregivers have that excuse.

No amount of good advice from the government can take the place of personal responsibility.  Do your part: cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze (preferably with a tissue or the crook of your elbow); wash your hands regularly (try for at least five times a day, for at least 20 seconds); get a flu shot* if you're medically fit to do so (especially if you provide care to people who are at high risk of complications), and vaccinate your kids*, unless your healthcare provider tells you not to.  

*The current flu vaccine won't help against the H1N1 "swine flu" virus, so when a vaccine for that strain becomes available (hopefully by this fall), roll up your sleeve and take it.  And make sure your kids get it, too.

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