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So how bad is the swine flu??
December 7, 2009 5:13 AM   Subscribe

How blown-up out-of-proportion is the swine flu scare relative to other life-threatening infections/diseases? Is it alarming enough that I need a swine flu shot if I'm going to SE Asia in DEC09/JAN10?

Time is running out, and I am confused as to whether I should get a shot before leaving for a 3 week trek in SE Asia through a handful of countries.

From what I have been reading, vaccinations are the ultra-safe path for short-term protection and definitely should be taken during a crisis (e.g. epidemic). On the other hand, if it is not a crisis it would overall not be beneficial for someone my age (26), as I am likely to recover from a swine flu infection... and something to do with antibodies, mutating-dormant-virus and the overall corruption of my immune system. My microbiology-graduate friend confirms the negative effects of inoculations are part of the process, but also says if its a 'crisis' it should be taken.

So how bad is the swine flu??

Thanks!
posted by gttommy to Society & Culture (29 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I had a bout of what the doctor said was almost certainly H1N1 but didn't bother testing.

It. Was. Hell. Horrific full-body pain, difficulty breathing, extreme fatigue (walking to the store 150 metres away was an exercise in exhaustion, even after I was 'better'), dizziness--even when you're laying down... it was awful. 8 or 9 days of just nastiness and marinating on the sofa wanting to die. I have no idea what the real dangers of vaccinations are, as the tinfoil hat brigade muddies the water with so much stupid fucking alarmism over something they simply do not understand, but if I had the choice I'd go back in time a few weeks and get the shot by hook or by crook. I have never been that sick in my life and never wish to be again.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 5:38 AM on December 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


You're young, presumably fairly fit, and have no underlying health problems. Go trekking and have a great time. If you want advice about swine flu, at least consult reliable sources and not batshit conspiracy sites.

And why should SE Asia be any more of a risk than where you are right now? You're arguably less likely to get flu if you're outdoors trekking as opposed to sitting in a confined space like an office, provided you wash your hands at public restrooms.

Get vaccinated if you want the certainly, but sometimes it's better just to treat these things as an exercise in taking a rational stance towards an over-hyped threat.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 5:48 AM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yes, you should get the H1N1 vaccine. The H1N1 has not been dramatically more deadly than the seasonal flu, but hey, why would you want to get sick while you're travelling? That would suck. And, it definitely can kill you - your survival chances are pretty good, but why take the chance?

Even if you're not worried about it yourself, you should get vaccinated for the sake of the rest of us, and the people you come in contact with in SE Asia.

if you get the H1N1 flu because you didn't vaccinate yourself, then run around in a third world country, you're just infecting a bunch of other people you come in contact with, many of whom probably won't have access to the cushy mortality rates in Australia.

Finally, for the love of pete, please show your microbiology-graduate friend those things you've been reading. If he has a biology degree at any respectable institution, after he stops laughing, he'll be able to tell you why those things are steaming piles of horse crap.

"vaccinations ... are actually weapons of mass destruction being perpetrated upon humanity in the name of health, for the purpose of genocide and to bring in the New World Order."

Christ in a bucket...won't someone save these people from themselves?!
posted by Salvor Hardin at 5:50 AM on December 7, 2009 [8 favorites]


gttommy: "Is it alarming enough that I need a swine flu shot if I'm going to SE Asia in DEC09/JAN10?"

Uhm according to whom?

If you're concerned about the vaccination, go speak to your doctor about rather than internet crackpots.
posted by turkeyphant at 5:51 AM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Would you rather gamble your life/enjoyment of your trip on the verifiable risks of coming down with swine flu, or the unknown, unverifiable risks of getting the vaccine?

For me, the choice was simple, but I also have a couple of high-risk factors.
posted by sunshinesky at 6:04 AM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Here are a couple of links about the "Doctor" who wrote the infowar article. You can make up your own mind on whether she is worth believing, or if I am part of the conspiracy.
posted by procrastination at 6:06 AM on December 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


For what its worth, I had the swine flu in early November. For about 2-3 days it was miserable, very high fever around 102-3, horrible aches and pains, shortness of breath, etc. However, I was put on Tamiflu by my doctor and the fever then immediately came down and it turned into more of a weeklong cough/congestion type deal, which was still bad, but nothing in comparison. That being said, I don't have a lot of faith in the anti-vaccine crazies. Vaccinations are and have been overwhelming safe and effective, and if you have the chance to avoid this nastiness, I would jump on it.
posted by KilgoreTrout at 6:23 AM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Get the vaccine for yourself and the people around you. It is safe and effective. It takes two weeks for the immunity to develop.
posted by chocolatetiara at 6:28 AM on December 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


If you get the flu while on vacation, you may get moderately ill, you may get as ill as dnab, or you may get seriously ill and end up in intensive care.

Odds are, IF you get the flu, it will be somewhere between moderate to exhausting (see dnab). But young people are also disproportionately represented in the group that ends up in intensive care. If you're travelling abroad from country to country, how sure are you that you can get excellent medical care if you get bad flu and need to rest up and recover in bed for a week, or very bad flu and need intensive care? Even if there is a lot of good care available right now in those countries, what if there's a January flare-up and the medical system is overwhelmed? Hell, are you even willing to risk losing a week of your hard-earned vacation when vaccination gives you a lot of protection?

Don't listen to those web nutbars. Get your shot, go back to planning your vacation, and know that when you get there, you will have taken all reasonable precautions to avoid the flu.
posted by maudlin at 6:42 AM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is the vaccine even available for you? Here in the U.S., it is not yet available for healthy people ages 25–63.

On the other hand, if it is not a crisis it would overall not be beneficial for someone my age (26), as I am likely to recover from a swine flu infection...

You are more likely than not to recover from any kind of flu. But this is not because of your age. People 64 and younger are much more likely to be hospitalized or die from H1N1 flu, unlike the usual seasonal flu, which causes serious complications mainly in those 65 and older. Between April and October of this year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimate ~34,000 to ~83,000 hospitalizations and ~1,900 to ~4,600 deaths due to H1N1 flu among those 18–64 years of age.
posted by grouse at 6:49 AM on December 7, 2009


At the very least getting swine flu would probably ruin your vacation which is enough reason to try and get the vaccine now in my opinion. Also if you are seriously the kind of person who would give credence to that garbage you probably have more important worries.
posted by BobbyDigital at 7:02 AM on December 7, 2009


Christ in a bucket...won't someone save these people from themselves?!


One could argue that the anti-vaccination nutjobs are a self-solving problem. Except that they'll be vectors and reservoirs for diseases the rest of us are smart enough to get injections for.

Bear in mind, gttommy, that swine flu is only likely to be fatal if you're very young, very old, or immunocompromised in some fashion (cancer, chemotherapy, HIV, organ transplant/antirejection meds). It is, however, virtually guaranteed to ruin the fuck out of your vacation should you catch it. Maudlin makes excellent points about transmitting the disease to people without your access to healthcare, and more acutely, your own access to healthcare while travelling.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:08 AM on December 7, 2009


I live in Singapore and know a few people who got the flu here. Having said that, it's not very widespread. Here's government info, a few thousand a week getting sick. Singapore has about 4.5 million people, so you can work out the percentages. I'd assume it's roughly the same elsewhere in the region.

Still, if I were you, I'd get the vaccine. The urban centers in SEA have decent medical care, but if you're planning on more remote travels, it would be best to minimize chance of illness.

I got the flu jab last week. For me, it was completely a non-event, no side effects whatsoever.
posted by blue mustard at 7:18 AM on December 7, 2009


swine flu is only likely to be fatal if you're very young, very old, or immunocompromised in some fashion

According to the statistics I linked above it is more likely to be fatal if you are not very young or very old. This is one of the key reasons that policymakers are especially concerned about H1N1 influenza.
posted by grouse at 7:20 AM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was going on what the doctor at the ER told me when I went in having problems breathing.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:42 AM on December 7, 2009


Given that there is exactly 0.00% risk to receiving the vaccination, and potentially enormous benefit to your health, it seems like a no-brainer to me.
posted by e.e. coli at 8:03 AM on December 7, 2009


Just get the shot.

One of the distinctive things about H1N1 is that seemingly healthy young people have died very suddenly. This is different than the seasonal flu that is usually only fatal in the very young, old and sick.
Public Health Agency of Canada - Adults 19 to 64 years of age: As compared to adults over 65, this group has an increased rate of infection and a higher risk of severe outcomes.

If you get the flu, it WILL suck and there is a chance that you could have complications.
The shot has VERY low risk, even compared to the low risk of contracting and dying from the swine flu.
CDC - Millions of people have also safely received the 2009 H1N1 vaccine. CDC expects that any side effects following vaccination with the 2009 H1N1 influenza vaccine would be rare
posted by Gor-ella at 8:11 AM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I had a bout of what the doctor said was almost certainly H1N1 but didn't bother testing.

It. Was. Hell. Horrific full-body pain, difficulty breathing, extreme fatigue (walking to the store 150 metres away was an exercise in exhaustion, even after I was 'better'), dizziness--even when you're laying down... it was awful. 8 or 9 days of just nastiness and marinating on the sofa wanting to die. I have no idea what the real dangers of vaccinations are, as the tinfoil hat brigade muddies the water with so much stupid fucking alarmism over something they simply do not understand, but if I had the choice I'd go back in time a few weeks and get the shot by hook or by crook. I have never been that sick in my life and never wish to be again.

dirtynumbangelboy's experiences mirror my own almost exactly. I couldn't walk more than about two meters without needing a long rest. For me, it lasted about two weeks. And unfortunately, I was in Hungary on vacation to further my Hungarian and have fun and travel. I thought I was going to die. It sort of ruined one full month of my three-month vacation, and it was only afterwards that I found out - through testing - that it was H1N1. The two weeks of illness were horrific, but it also took about two weeks before I began to feel normal and could walk a reasonable distance with no problems - and I'm in really good shape.

I've been shot and nearly blown up by shells and in a two-week coma, so it sounds pretty weird to say that H1N1 was really brutal, but it was. You may be lucky enough to escape H1N1, but I got mine about three days after I arrived in Hungary. If that happened to you on your three-week journey, the whole trip would likely be a waste. You'd be a fool not to get the vaccinel it's not about recovery as much as it is just not losing a month of your happy life.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 8:17 AM on December 7, 2009


Another anecdata point, with dnab and Dee.

I've had the seasonal flu before. This was a whole new level of hell. It's been about 5 weeks since I came down with H1N1 and I am only now starting to feel back to normal. Energy levels are still blah. I felt worse than maybe ever.

I cannot IMAGINE getting it while traveling. Get the shot.
posted by fiercecupcake at 8:36 AM on December 7, 2009


[removed links in post - questions need to be questions, not MeFi posts in training, put them in your profile if you want people to see them and DON'T turn this into another LOLVAX thread, answer the question or go to MeTa thanks.]
posted by jessamyn at 8:39 AM on December 7, 2009


I travel a lot, which is why my doctor friend advised me to get it: airports and airplanes are breeding grounds for everything, thanks to the combination of worldwide travel and recycled air. First flu shot I've ever had in my life, and I'm otherwise healthy etc and not in any high-risk group. Other than the traveling, that is.

Also, based on the fact you're worrying/beanplating it now in advance, if you don't get the shot you are going to spend your entire time in Asia worrying about it.

So that's two reasons for one vote for getting the shot.
posted by rokusan at 8:44 AM on December 7, 2009


I'd say get the shot. You are traveling, which even in the best of times is stressful on your system. You are also traveling during a huge outbreak. It would be best to take all reasonable precautions, which a vaccine is.

If you where staying at home, I think my advice would be pretty different.
posted by edgeways at 9:04 AM on December 7, 2009


e.e. coli: "Given that there is exactly 0.00% risk to receiving the vaccination, and potentially enormous benefit to your health, it seems like a no-brainer to me."

What are you talking about? No doctor thinks that there is a 0% risk. For example, there is a small but not ignorable risk (about 1 in 100,000) of getting Guillain–Barré syndrome. Also, it can make you feel under the weather for some time. Although it's still better overall to get the vaccine, it doesn't make sense to pretend that it is risk-free.
posted by turkeyphant at 9:10 AM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


FYI, there are different strains of the H1N1 virus that are floating around. I have a coworker who just returned to work today after having had H1N1. He was vaccinated against H1N1 two weeks prior to contracting the disease. So, a vaccination doesn't necessarily prevent infection, it just protects against the strain you're vaccinated against.
posted by kdar at 10:21 AM on December 7, 2009


re: GBS. This is the CDCs page on Guillain-Barré syndrome and vaccinations. The risk of contracting it appears to be roughly 1 in 100,000 whether you are vaccinated or not. There was a slight increased risk for contracting GBS following vaccination in 1976. This has not been true for people receiving other seasonal flu vaccinations. You can assess your own risk tolerance level, but please make sure you are working from facts.
posted by jessamyn at 10:30 AM on December 7, 2009


People 64 and younger are much more likely to be hospitalized or die from H1N1 flu, unlike the usual seasonal flu, which causes serious complications mainly in those 65 and older.

This is not because they are old, but because there was a related swine flu epidemic that people 65 and older already lived through and were exposed to, developing their own antibodies to H1N1.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:27 AM on December 7, 2009


Pollomacho, that page is a description of a small outbreak of typhoid fever, not a swine flu epidemic. And I don't think there is consensus on why it affects primarily the young (95 percent of cases are those younger than 50 years according to this JAMA paper). A cytokine storm effect has been suggested but the only evidence I have seen is that other pandemics have affected the young more for this reason.

In any case, the mechanism doesn't matter—the fact is that H1N1 flu affects younger people in a much larger proportion compared to seasonal flu, so you shouldn't only be concerned if you are very young or very old.
posted by grouse at 11:45 AM on December 7, 2009


You're right grouse, poor preview, so here are a couple of other citations for you.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:59 AM on December 7, 2009


Yet another anecdotal data point for you: like dnab, Dee, and fiercecupcake, I too had an H1N1-like flu that my doctor didn't test.

I'm 33, do 50 miles of hilly forest trails a week on my mountain bike, and walk practically everywhere else (don't have a car), for about 15 miles a week on foot (I walk at least 2 miles a day). In other words, I'm in pretty good shape.

This flu knocked me on my back, literally, for a full 7 days. I cannot remember ever being so ill in my life. Full-body aches that felt like they went all the way to my bone marrow. Immense fatigue. Despite having ibuprofen, nasal spray and cough medication that had been prescribed by my doctor, I still had aches, and trouble breathing. I coughed so much, was so exhausted, and had so little appetite, that by the sixth day, I understood why people were dying from it... I lay in bed, gasping for air, my abdominal muscles too weak and sore to clear my throat properly. I gasped for a while, finally forced myself to cough as strongly as I could, and made it. It took three weeks for the cough to finally go away, and the same amount of time to get over the inordinate fatigue. (That said, I didn't go back to riding my bike for a month, just to be sure that I'd fully cleared the bug and didn't make myself sick again.)

Get the vaccine. You don't want this flu, and you really don't want to spread it to others. (I'm very glad it hit on a Sunday so that I didn't unknowingly go to work with it - most of the people in our offices are parents, and young children are at high risk from this flu. I understand why now.)
posted by fraula at 1:10 AM on December 8, 2009


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