(10/19/2005)
By Chad Smith M.D., FAAP

With the flu season upon us again and the continued talk about the "avian flu" I feel it is important to discuss vaccination publicly.

Recently polio has again been found in American children, namely the Amish population of Minnesota, reemphasizing the need for continued vaccination again this old and dreaded disease.

It has been 50 years since the first mass vaccination against polio in the United States. The vaccine today is much safer and effective compared to the original, but the disease is still just as potent.

One of 200 infected individuals develop symptoms of polio, from a mild upper respiratory infection to complete paralysis.

Hopefully none of the infected children in Minnesota develop clinical disease but the chance does exist. Luckily most of our children in WV are vaccinated against polio, but we still have some who lack the complete vaccination series leaving them susceptible to the dreaded disease. Minnesota is only a plane ride away for anyone.

What about the avian flu? What does this actually mean? Avian flu was recently found on the fringes of Europe in Turkey and Romania, probably transmitted via wild fowl.

Currently the avian flu is strain of the flu virus related to the strain which circulated the world in 1918 causing millions of deaths in the US and worldwide.

The current strain of the virus can only be transmitted between birds and from bird to human, but the fear is that soon the virus will mutate and be able to be passed from human to human.

Currently the death rate for infected humans is near 50%, as you can see a very dangerous proposition considering how many Americans get the flu each year. If the avian flu would mutate this year and come to the US our vaccine would be ineffective, as the vaccine for this year would not contain the proper ingredients.

Production of the correct vaccine may take over a year to perfect thus we would be left defenseless from a vaccine standpoint. Luckily, we usually have advanced notice of which flu virus is going to circulate in any given season thus we can produce effective vaccine.

Our second line of defense against the flu would then be anti-viral drugs that are in woefully short supply and with a pandemic of flu would be almost impossible to obtain.

The final solution to prevent spread of the disease would be to quarantine ourselves from school, work, church and other large social gatherings which facilitate easy transmission of the virus.

As for this flu season, it appears as if vaccine will be plentiful and anyone who desires to be vaccinated will probably be able to find a dose in early November.

Don't forget the basic of hygiene, always wash your hands and cover your mouth when coughing and sneezing. These simple techniques will help to stop the spread of the flu and protect others.

If you are unfortunate enough to develop the flu remember to see your doctor early within the first 24-48 hours, because this is when appropriate treatment with antiviral drugs can be provided.

After this window the antiviral drugs are not effective against the flu. Unfortunately antibiotics are not effective against the flu at any point of the disease and only useful if you have developed an infection like pneumonia in addition to the flu.

Remember to stay diligent against colds and the flu this fall and winter season. The best way is prevention with good hygiene, vaccination and preventative care.

I would also encourage those of you with young children to check with your pediatrician and make sure all of his/her shots are up to date to protect them against other diseases.

For more information or questions, please call Minnie Hamilton Health Care Center at 354-9244.


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