Be careful which flu strain you fear

I listened quietly in the background on Saturday afternoon as two different parents debated the value of flu vaccines. Apparently one woman’s husband had come down with the flu and had become quite sick. Fearing the worst, she took herself and two children to a pharmacy, hoping that the flu shots would be an ounce of prevention to protect herself and two children from catching what her husband already had. The family had never received flu vaccines prior to that week.
The other woman, who is a nurse, was quite astounded that in today’s world, someone would hesitate to have their family inoculated against the flu which was making its rounds through Canada. The response was “the flu in Canada is not serious, but the coronavirus strain is deadly.”
And then the nurse dropped the bomb. “Are you aware that a 27-year-old man died this year as a result of flu complications in our city?” The room was silenced.
Already in Canada, more people have died from this year’s version of the flu than have perished in China from the coronavirus. As Canadians, we are aware that we can expect the flu to show up on our doorsteps every year and it is nothing to really worry about. Deaths from the flu across Canada are not widely publicized. In the background we are aware of deaths, but are not worried.
We are complacent.
Now the world media have put the fear of a new flu virus strain into the headlines. Television and radio newscasts lead with the increasing number of people diagnosed with this new strain. We get regular box scores of how many have died to date. We are not hearing about how many have had the coronavirus and owing to good health, never became ill. Nor have we heard of how many patients are daily discharged from hospitals who had contracted the virus.
Countries are distributing face masks to eliminate the potential of catching the flu. Whole cities have been quarantined and people arriving from China to Canada or the United Stares are being placed into quarantined facilities for 14 days. Australia, New Zealand, the United States and eight other countries have now banned residents who have been in China from returning to their home country for several weeks.
The World Health Organization now tells us the safest way to prevent catching the flu is to wash our hands multiple times throughout the day. It isn’t rocket science, but during the SARS outbreak, washing ones hands was the easiest way to reduce the transmission of the disease.
Countries are labouring furiously to develop a vaccine strain to prevent the virus from becoming a world-wide plague. But if we look to history, simple solutions often work best, and fear and worry about disease hurt countries the most. We can’t be complacent about the new virus, but then again, we should take the flu that comes to our doorsteps every year more seriously.

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