What’s the best way to avoid being laid low by the flu bug as we head into flu season? It might be that getting out of town is more effective than getting a flu shot.
A recent study has concluded that big cities have longer, “more vicious” flu seasons. One of the researchers in the study explained: “Larger cities have more organized movement patterns, and these patterns connect pockets of high population density together.” The density factor is significant given how flu is transmitted. As the researcher noted: “Flu spreads from person to person by virus-bearing moisture droplets that an infected person exhales or coughs or sneezes out. This creates what you can think of as a moving cloud of risk around an infected individual.”
“A moving cloud of risk around an infected individual,” eh? Make you want to go sit on the bus or the subway with a bunch of potentially sick strangers, doesn’t it?
None of this is a surprise to anyone who’s had kids, because it’s just the “preschool effect” writ large. Once your kids go to preschool and are exposed to a bunch of other germy, sniffling rugrats, you suddenly notice that everybody in the family, including you, is sicker than they’ve ever been before. Preschool undoubtedly helps to build up the immune system of children, because it is a living testament to the communicability of every different kind of cold, contagion, and virus. Cities, and particularly mass transit settings in cities, are like one big preschool, where that “moving cloud of risk around an infected individual” is a lot more likely to find you.
Last winter’s flu season was a particularly savage one, and is estimated to have caused 80,000 deaths and a record number of hospitalizations. If you want to avoid the bug this year, you might just want to get the heck out of town.
Today at lunch the Bus Riding Conservative announced that he had received his flu shot. It made me realize I’ve never had one.
Even during the years when you hear the direst predictions about virulent flu strains sweeping the nation and knocking people down for weeks, I refrain from getting a flu shot. I’m not sure why, exactly. I’m not afraid of needles, nor am I one of those people who is opposed to immunization on the basis of some obscure religious belief or sense of social consciousness. I’ve received all my vaccinations and am happy to obtain booster shots when the doctor instructs.
They didn’t have flu shots when I was a kid, so I never got used to having them. And when I first heard about them as an adult, there always seemed to be issues about shortages. The news stories would say that the flu shots really should be reserved for young kids and seniors, and I was neither. I figured I would leave the shots for the people who really needed them, and that mindset still lurks — even though I’ve moved a lot closer to the senior citizens category over the years.
I’ve never really had a problem with the flu, so I don’t have any awful experience that would motivate me to change my approach. (This probably means, of course, that this year will be the year.) And there are studies that raise questions about the effectiveness of flu shots from year to year. If there’s a chance that a flu shot is just going to make me feel bad, and isn’t going to provide much assurance that I’m not going to get the flu anyway, why worry about it?
So this year, I’ll leave the flu shots to the seniors, the kids, and the BRC. We’ll see if I make it through flu season flu-free.
On the first leg of my return flight today I traveled with a passenger who wore one of those white cotton masks covering her mouth and nose.
Immediately I began to wonder: has there been an outbreak of an exotic disease somewhere in the world that I haven’t heard about? Or, was this woman just ill, and trying to be somewhat sensitive to the health of her fellow passengers. (I say “somewhat,” because I can’t believe that those surgical masks really provide much protection, and if she really was sick the rest of us on that confined metal tube with filled recycled air were likely to get whatever germs she might have been trying to contain. So, she really wasn’t that thoughtful after all — if she was sick, the thoughtful thing would have been to refrain from traveling and exposing the rest of us.)
But perhaps she was worried about getting germs from me, and the woman with the two kids, and the guy wearing the sportcoat and the pork pie hat. Maybe she was just one of those hypochondriacs who worry about going out in public due to a Howard Hughes-like fear of airborne exposure to the latest strain of bacteria or flu. I felt vaguely offended by that possibility. Or maybe she wears a mask because she is famous and is traveling incognito. Or maybe she just wears the mask to keep people like me on their toes and paying attention to their fellow passengers.
I’ll be paying extra close attention to whether I get the sniffles, a scratchy throat, and a cough over the next day or so.