Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Dodge downtime: Get a flu shot

You’ve probably heard the joke about the guy stranded on his roof by a flood who prays for God to rescue him. A fellow in a rowboat comes along, but the man sends him away, saying, “I have faith in the Lord; the Lord will save me.” He rows off, and later a speedboat comes by. The man on the roof again refuses, with the same words. Finally, a Coast Guard chopper flies over and gets ready to hoist him up. Still he refuses. The water keeps rising and he drowns.

When he gets to heaven, he says, “Lord, I prayed for you to save me, but you didn’t. Why?” God gives him a puzzled look, and replies, “I sent you two boats and a helicopter; what more did you expect?”

I get that frustrated feeling when people tell me “I don't believe in flu shots, because I don't think they work,” or the other favorite, “I ain’t getting no flu shot cause it might give me the flu like it did my fourth cousin.” What do you need, an engraved invitation?

Flu can knock you off the road for a week or maybe more, and leave you feeling like something swept out of a trailer for weeks after that. The trucking lifestyle – lack of rest, odd hours, exposure to a wide variety of people, and even the challenge of finding a place to wash your hands – can make you more vulnerable to the virus. And if you get it and keep traveling, chances are you’re helping to spread it.

I’ve been taking flu shots for about 40 years, ever since I was 19 and didn’t get a shot. I spent a week on my back in the hospital running a fever of 103. (It was a teaching hospital and the nurses were young and cute, but I was too sick to care – which, at 18, means I was rapping on that famous door).

In all those years, only once did I come down with something resembling the flu, and that was at the tail-end of the season when the protection was wearing off. So I believe the scientists when they say it works.

As for giving you the flu, the injected flu vaccine is made from a killed virus, and the nasal flu vaccine (nasal spray) is made from a weakened live virus. Although the nasal spray is made from a live virus, it CANNOT give a healthy person the flu. You can have a side effect, but you can't get the flu. Click here for more information from the Centers for Disease Control.

The CDC thinks this may be a rough flu season, and the white-coat wonks are urging everyone to get a shot, unless they are allergic to eggs (the virus is cultivated in eggs, hopefully not the ones that had salmonella) or otherwise medically unable to take the vaccine.

This year’s vaccine is a three-in-one combo, offering protection against the anticipated seasonal flu viruses and also the latest model of the H1N1 virus.

The good news is that it’s easier to get a flu shot than to find a parking spot at a truck stop. Many supermarket chains offer them at their pharmacies. Drug store chains Walgreen’s, Rite-Aid and CVS have just announced they will give free flu shots to people without health insurance.

If you’re over 65 or if you have health issues like heart or lung disease, diabetes, sickle cell, alcoholism or other conditions, or if you smoke or have asthma, look into getting a pneumonia shot.

Flu can develop into pneumonia, which is often the cause of flu deaths. That’s what killed a lot of the people who died in the flu epidemics of WWI.

Regardless of whether you get a flu shot, the best way to avoid getting or spreading it is to wash your hands regularly, cover coughs and sneezes, try to eat a healthy diet, drink fluids, avoid crowds and get enough sleep. (Note: Most hand sanitizers are more effective on bacteria than on viruses. Washing with soap and water is generally considered your best front line of defense.)

If you do catch the flu, or have flu-like symptoms, stay put if you can, and see a doctor. Again, the big drug chains have walk-in clinics that can help.

For more about the upcoming flu season, click here.