H1N1 – aka, Swine Flu – is back this winter with a vengeance!
We are victims of Swine Flu fatigue. H1N1 is like a former child star; it has a hard time generating interest with anything less than outrageous behavior.
Does killing children count as outrageous behavior? H1N1’s “glory” days were the 1918 epidemic, where it killed approximately 100 million souls – but that is old news.
This year, “the system” is working better than ever. H1N1 was selected last fall as one of the influenza viruses to be included in the 2013-14 influenza vaccine. The H1N1 part of the vaccine we have been working on since 2009.
This influenza vaccine is a good clean vaccine, one of the best in recent years. It was a good pick because 99 percent of influenza cases in the U.S. are caused by H1N1. And if you get a flu shot (or flu snort), nine days later you have strong immunity that will last 6-9 months, easily getting you through flu season.
All the flu viruses have their own variations on the theme, and Swine Flu still has a few tricks. Influenza viruses in general tend to predictably cause the highest mortality in the elderly, who are too weak to fight (and likely unvaccinated).
However, Swine Flu has a perverse affinity for younger, healthier people. This was also its behavior in the 1918 epidemic. The mechanism of death was your immune system “run amuck,” called cytokine storm.
Your body normally activates the defenses against viral invaders generating antibodies galore. Moderation and a balanced immune response works the best.
H1N1 somehow highjacks control of your immune cells and turns your defense response up to DEFCON 1. This massive release of inflammatory chemicals can overwhelm you, and collapse and death can follow, even in the healthy.
This is not the lingering death over weeks of viral respiratory infection, with a fatal case of the dwindles. This is acute stuff, the collapse part is pretty accurate.
Cytokine storm only happens in strong, vigorous immune systems. Those are the young and healthy; their vigor perversely is their downfall. This is a pretty difficult thing to stop once it gets started and you will spend time in the ICU – if you are lucky!
The peak of influenza infections is upon us. Flu vaccine is still available, so best to put a flu shot on top of your to-do list.
Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B) is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing clinical occupational medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B. works in our Scottsdale, Arizona clinic.
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