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The Flu Has No Respect For Your Schedule Or Your Problems

Monday 06 November 2017 at 9:22 pm.

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for November 2, 2017, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            Every year, my doctor asks me if I want a flu shot, and I tell her no, that I haven’t had the flu in 40 years, and so I see no reason to do so. We have gone through this ritual for quite a few years now, though I did let her give me two pneumonia shots. Last year, a member of my family took the flu shot, but got the flu anyway, because it was a different type of the disease. Now that the flu virus is beginning to show its ugly face again, I hope my doctor won’t end up having to tell me, “I told you so.” She’s too nice to do that.

            The last time I got the flu, it came at a very inopportune time, as my wife and I both came down with the ailment when our oldest daughter was a child. We were both so sick, neither of us could get out of bed, or if we did crawl out and attempt to stand up, we couldn’t. Fortunately, we were rescued by a friend of ours, who took our toddler home with her until we recovered somewhat. One thing is certain, when you do come down with the flu, it’s going to be at one of the most inappropriate times in your life. For example, last week, two of my neighbors came down with the flu at the same time their father was having heart problems.

            As a speech major in college, the flu often arrived at the time of a major debate tournament. Since I was attending college on a debate scholarship, a fact that made it difficult to call in sick at the beginning of a major debate tournament. I remember going to a tournament, armed with a box of Kleenex, cough syrup, and a bottle of aspirin; it’s probable I even took my partner’s suggestion of taking along a small flask of Bourbon. Near the end of the second day of the forensic tourney, my voice sounded like a delirious guinea hen with tonsillitis! My debate coach kept telling me to go to bed, but I kept saying to her and to myself, “But it’s just a cold.”

            The medical world has learned a lot more about flu since I was an undergraduate student in college. I’m not even sure that doctors knew influenza was caused by a virus rather than bacteria in the 1950’s. Penicillin did not come into widespread use until I was in high school in the late 1940’s, and there was a tendency in the ‘50’s for clinics to give you a penicillin shot when you had the flu, not fully knowing penicillin had no effect on viruses.

            Since there are so many viruses that can cause the flu, it’s difficult to treat the disease and apparently impossible to eradicate it. In the early days, most people, like me in college, thought we just had a bad cold. In those days, you couldn’t go online and look up flu symptoms on WebMD or the Mayo Clinic site.

            Now, however, we know that there are three basic flu viruses, -- A, B, and C. It’s types A and B that cause the annual flu epidemics affecting at least 20 percent of the population. Type C, I have learned in recent years, also causes flu, but it seems to be a less severe form of it. Type A is capable of infecting animals as well as people, but type B only infects people. Type C, being a milder viral infection, does not cause epidemics. To make things even more complicated, there are varieties of type A, as it is constantly changing, one variety being Type A2. You see, different strains of the flu virus mutate over a period of time.

            Because animals can carry the Type A virus, this is the strain that causes what we now call “Bird flu,” or what doctors call “Avian Influenza,” as wild birds are often hosts for this type. Bird flu is not usually passed on from person to person; you have to be infected by contact with a bird who has it. I don’t think even doctors knew all of this in the 1950’s. So we just thought we had a bad cold.

            Medical sources tell us that the flu is linked to between 3,000 and 49,000 deaths and 200,000 hospitalizations each year in America. So it is a disease to be taken seriously. I can remember a flu epidemic several years ago in our area during which there were so many people hospitalized with the flu that all area hospitals were overflowing with patients. I didn’t get the flu that year, nor 39 other years, knock on wood! Everybody needs to be informed and to be fully prepared for the forthcoming flu season according to your own special needs. Elderly people, children, people with compromised immune systems and other medical conditions are especially susceptible to serious bouts with influenza. Check with your doctor, -- at least the medical community knows what to tell you in the 21st Century. I sometimes wonder how we survived back in the ‘40’s and ‘50’s. I thank God for the discoveries and breakthroughs of modern medicine.

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Ray Spitzenberger is a free-lance writer and artist who lives in East Bernard with his beautiful wife Peggy and spoiled cat Gatsby.

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