EDITORIAL – Flu season: Not too late to vaccinate

Public health officials are advising the public to get vaccinated against influenza.

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” Well, that’s what the Bible says anyway.

It is a whole lot easier to appreciate the purpose of some seasons over others. We enjoy the Christmas season, the tourist season – even the rainy season has its charm. But if there is one season we would gladly do without, it is the flu season.

The flu is back – that unwelcome visitor arrives each year around this time, bestowing aches, fevers and exhaustion on anyone unlucky enough to cross its path.

Public health officials recently told the Compass that they were seeing an average of 172 cases per week at the end of December, compared with 137 cases per week the month prior. They warn that the flu season likely has not yet reached its peak.

In the U.S. (home to approximately 80 percent of Cayman’s visitors), the Centers for Disease Control has reported widespread flu outbreaks in 46 states (they’ve only got 50), with regional outbreaks in the rest. Last week, the newspaper USA Today reported troubling signs pointing to an exceptionally difficult flu season in the States, including a dramatic rise in flu-related hospitalizations and a number of deaths.

Under a microscope, the influenza virus looks like a tiny orb punctuated by starburst spikes, with its length measured in mere nanometers. Once the tiny pathogen enters the human bloodstream and begins to multiply, however, it carries a Mack truck-like impact that can mow down the biggest and strongest homo sapiens.

Once a person has contracted the virus, there is not much to do but suffer while the virus runs its course. Unless the doctor recommends an antiviral medicine, the only surefire cure is plenty of rest, plenty of fluids and maybe mom’s secret recipe for chicken noodle soup, to help the body’s natural defenses.

But there are steps one can take to minimize the chances of contracting the virus. Chief among these is the flu shot.

Hundreds of millions of flu shots are administered around the world every year, with the global market estimated at US$4 billion per year.

However, despite the enormous quantity of money being spent, and the cutting-edge science involved, flu vaccines are no panacea. Because the virus mutates so rapidly, the vaccine is typically only about 50 to 60 percent effective. Millions of people come down with the flu every year, and thousands die from it.

Although flu vaccines are imperfect, research shows that vaccinations do reduce a person’s likelihood of contracting the flu, and may make the illness milder in those who do fall sick. This is especially important for children, pregnant women, caregivers, the elderly and anyone with medical conditions. Getting vaccinated helps protect not only yourself, but those around you who may be vulnerable to the disease.

Cayman Islands officials say it is not too late to vaccinate against the flu this season. To encourage more people to do so, free vaccinations are being offered at the General Practice Clinic at the Cayman Islands Hospital and all district health centers from 2-4 p.m. Monday to Friday; at Faith Hospital in Cayman Brac; and the Little Cayman Clinic. Cayman Brac residents should call 948-2243 to arrange a vaccination, and Little Cayman residents should call 948-0072.

The Public Health Department (hurrah!) has even offered to send staff to places of business if 20 or more employees sign up for vaccinations. Companies can arrange onsite vaccinations by calling the department at 244-2621 or 244-2889, or emailing [email protected]

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