Commentary: Separating H1N1 flu myths from facts

I received an e-mail message Monday that was filled with fear and warnings about the seasonal and H1N1 vaccines. The sender, and all those before him on the forwarding list, admonished me not to take the flu shot.

It was wasted on me.

I've been taking a seasonal flu vaccine since 2005, after my first bout with lung cancer. Other than a sore arm at the spot of the injection, I've not noticed any other side effects.

And I've not had the flu.

There is no way to change the minds of those who fear a government conspiracy to kill us all with the H1N1 vaccine, although I don't know why the government would want to get rid of taxpayers in these economic times. But the rest of us should make educated decisions about the issue and not fall for some of the myths and inaccuracies that are racing through our communities and the Internet.

I called Dr. Melinda Rowe, Fayette County's commissioner of health, to ask about the misconceptions and the truth.

Myth: The most common myth the health department has dealt with, Rowe said, is that swine flu, or H1N1, comes from pigs.

Fact: There are a few illnesses that one can get from under-cooked pork, but the flu is not one of them, she said. "People stopped eating pork" when the swine flu was first reported earlier this year, she said, but that wasn't necessary.

Myth: There is an effort afoot to get rid of old people. Besides, people older than 65 are not eligible to get the H1N1 vaccine.

Fact: That misinformation might stem from a nationwide push to get children, young people, pregnant women and people of all ages who have other health problems immunized first, Rowe said. That is the demographic that seems to experience the worst effects and complications from this strain of flu.

According to recent studies, it seems that the elderly have come across a similar strain of H1N1 bug sometime in their past, giving them partial immunity.

Numbers in the United States from April indicate that 9,000 people were hospitalized with H1N1. There were 600 deaths. Of those hospitalizations and deaths, 75 percent of the people were younger than 49. Plus, Rowe said, 70 percent of those hospitalized and 80 percent of those who died were people who had underlying health conditions.

"I want those people to be first in line for those vaccines," Rowe said. "I want those 65 and older to get immunized, but let their children and grandchildren get it (the immunization) first and then come get it."

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