In the news September 1, 2020
The flu vaccine – but wait! There’s more!
The flu season doesn’t officially begin until October 1st but the vaccine is already available. Becoming infected with the influenza virus is always risky, especially for older persons but children are also at risk. More than 150 youngsters died in the season that ended earlier this year.
The influenza vaccine is not all that great compared to the highly protective childhood vaccines like measles or the ones that are strongly recommended for adults, such as the pneumonia or shingles vaccines. You can still get the flu if you are vaccinated but that’s not the primary consideration. We’re facing a new complication this year, COVID-19.
Some viruses weaken the immune system. That effect lasts for two years or more in the case of measles. Some of the worst secondary infections due to bacteria in my experience as a pediatrician occurred in kids with chickenpox. Influenza fits this pattern. Pneumonia caused by bacteria commonly occurs in patients hit by influenza, especially seniors. During the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic many, possibly the majority of fatalities, were due to secondary bacterial pneumonia, leading physicians to attribute the disease to a bacterium called Hemophilus influenzae, even erroneously naming the germ as the causative agent.
The influenza vaccine lowers the risk of pneumonia by about 20 percent and decreases the likelihood that a flu victim will require hospitalization. The studies are impressive: the influenza vaccine reduces the risk of dying by 36 percent, decreases ICU admission by 19 percent and reduces the need for mechanical ventilation by a whopping 34 percent. Several studies show that there is a significant reduction in heart attacks and strokes in vaccinees compared with those who are unvaccinated. In contrast, there is an increased risk of heart attack and stroke in the 6 months following a bout of influenza.
Kidney failure is becoming increasingly common, largely due to the epidemic of type 2 diabetes and most patients are unaware of it until severe symptoms appear, including heart failure. Recent studies show that patients with chronic kidney failure are less likely to develop heart failure if they have received the influenza vaccine.
We don’t yet know how the coronavirus pandemic will interact with the inevitable influenza infections. However since influenza, as noted, weakens the immune system, it’s likely to make the coronavirus infection worse. As you are aware by now, 90 percent of deaths due to COVID-19 have occurred in persons with one or more underlying disease, including obesity and diabetes.
Consider this: 42 percent of Americans are obese and 12 percent have type 2 diabetes. Only about half of seniors have received the vaccine against one of the leading causes of pneumonia in persons with influenza.
In light of all the above, failure to get the influenza vaccine is sheer folly. The current vaccine is already available. Some people defer the vaccine until January or February because protection seems to wane after several months. In this year of the coronavirus that is not a sensible strategy.
California’s fitness centers are open! Great news but when you return to your pre-pandemic workout, take it slow. For the first week or two it makes sense to use only light weights. Hard workouts lead to DOMS – Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness – which can be very painful.
Make sure that you’re getting enough protein to rebuild muscle, especially since exercise breaks down muscle cells – which is why they get bigger and stronger when the body repairs them – and protein is the building block of muscle. The average daily requirement for dietary protein is about one-half gram per pound of body weight; heavy exercisers need twice as much.
Don’t let yourself get dehydrated, even a little. Dehydration will make you more fatigued during your workout and it is the single most important factor in the development of kidney stones. Gyms now limit access to water fountains. You’ll have to bring your own bottle but they’ll let you refill it.
What? You don’t exercise? Did you know that regular, moderately intense exercise strengthens the immune system? That’s something you need now more than ever.