Wondering if you should get a flu shot this season? Before you make that decision, find out what two doctors with opposing opinions have to say. Their comments just might surprise you.
It may not have been on your calendar, but by now most people know that the official first day of flu season started on October 4. Usually, there's just a subtle reminder in your doctor's office, but this year everyone is talking about the dreaded H1N1 virus (also known as swine flu). Mostly because there has been more flu activity documented across the country than in previous years. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius stated that "minority communities are no more or less at risk for H1N1 or any other flu than any other community." However, she admits that this flu is unpredictable and has her department working overtime to convince the American public that both the seasonal flu shot and H1N1 vaccine are essential acts of defense. ESSENCE.com spoke to Dr. Mana Lumumba-Kasongo, an emergency medicine physician in Albany, Georgia, who is the first to encounter those sick from H1N1. Dr. Lumumba-Kasongo believes getting both shots could mean skipping a trip to her ER and strongly advocates that Black women take this situation seriously.
ESSENCE.COM: Why would you advocate getting the H1N1 vaccine?
DR. MANA LUMUMBA-KASONGO: If you look at the work that the CDC is doing, it shows that while the H1N1 flu is actually less virulent than the actual seasonal flu, it can actually spread a lot further. They are predicting that up to 35 percent of the population could get a strain of this. Just think about what a toll this would take on whole communities and kids staying out of school, I would strongly suggest that people look into getting the vaccination. As an emergency room physician, I'm in the front line of attack, seeing people at their sickest, so it's very important to me, particularly in a time when we're talking about health reform and millions of people without insurance.
ESSENCE.COM: One of the main concerns, especially in the African-American community, is whether or not this H1N1 vaccine is safe and can you take it with other medications?
LUMUMBA-KASONGO: The side effects that people are generally afraid of are mostly mild, including soreness at the injection site, perhaps a headache, fever or body aches. People shouldn't refuse to take the vaccination because of a fear of the more severe side effects, which are extremely low in occurrence. There is no reason to fear this vaccination. I believe the benefits outweigh the risks and people who are on other medications for chronic illnesses should be the primary ones getting the vaccine.
ESSENCE.COM: Are African-American's particularly at risk for that very reason?
LUMUMBA-KASONGO: We tend to get hit with chronic illnesses like diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, and HIV/AIDS, and these people are the ones who will get hit hardest by the flu, whether seasonal flu or H1N1. We also understand parents are concerned, but the reason why children have received the H1N1 nasal spray version of the vaccine first is because that's where the virus seems to be spreading most quickly. We want to prevent mass exodus from schools across the country, because if you have it, you could feel badly up to a week and that's a significant amount of days for any child to miss.
ESSENCE.COM: How can health agencies get the message across to the Black community that we really should consider taking the vaccine?
LUMUMBA-KASONGO: Much of the information so far has been delivered over the Internet and as we know, many African-Americans still don't have access to that. It has to be through the community. We need to have a direct line to our community leaders who are in touch with the Department of Health and Human Services almost on a daily basis because we're getting more information every day.
ESSENCE.COM: While the H1N1 vaccine isn't readily available just yet, should people have any concerns about taking the seasonal flu shot?
LUMUMBA-KASONGO: Not at all. The seasonal flu can sometimes be considered more deadly than the swine flu in the same groups that are always at risk which include children under the age of 5, people over the age of 55 and people with chronic conditions. The thing that is different with H1N1 is that it does seem to attack young kids and young adults
Dr. V. Ruth Pinney: 'There are so many variables that have to be a part of the discussion'
A recent poll by the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions found that more than half of the Americans surveyed don't believe that the H1N1 virus (otherwise known as swine flu) poses a serious threat. As the vaccine becomes more readily available in the next few weeks, women must decide what's best for them and their children. Controversy involving other vaccinations with alleged links to disorders like Autism has many moms looking for alternatives. V. Ruth Pinney, Ph.D, chief scientist for NOXO, who has over 30 years of experience in immunology, physiology, toxicology, indoor air quality research and experience working in the Office of Naval Research for the U.S. Navy, has another answer to preventing the H1N1 virus from overtaking your immune system. While Dr. Pinney is not discounting the need and importance of the H1N1 vaccine, she tells ESSENCE.com about other ways to stay flu-free this winter and why this is more than just a health issue.
ESSENCE.COM: Do you believe African-Americans should take the H1N1 vaccination?
DR. V. RUTH PINNEY: That's between the person and their health care giver. You have to assess the risk if you're pregnant, if you're immune system is compromised in any way due to chronic illness, or if you're allergic to eggs. There are so many variables that have to be a part of the discussion.
ESSENCE.COM: What other choices are then available for people who chose not to get themselves or their children vaccinated?
PINNEY: One of the things you can do is be nutritionally savvy. Most Americans are deficient in vitamin D3, the sunshine vitamin, and it's very important to our immune system. During the flu season, you should try to get more vitamin D3. I would also suggest people try to stay away from traveling in places with high density populations. Also, when you fly, the air is recirculated. You catch the flu in droplets where the virus particles are clustered together in the air when you sneeze or cough. You need a barrier to block those clusters like an anti-flu spray.
ESSENCE.COM: Where can people get this anti-flu spray and how does it work?
PINNEY: People can go to noxoantiflu.com and learn about the products that are made with essential oils which are anti-microbial. In the last decade, we found out that Tea Tree oil is effective against certain influenza. They tell you to wash your hands all the time, but science knows that you will catch the virus by breathing it in the air. If you take a spray that has the components in the right amounts it will actually cluster all these virus particles together and eventually make them fall out of your breathing zone.
ESSENCE.COM: You mentioned that this issue is more than just a health issue. What else is involved?
PINNEY: I'm a retired Naval Commander and I did work in biological defense and different types of germ warfare that other countries can use against us. I'm sure this is a test for Homeland Security to see if they can motivate the American public to protect themselves. The government is doing a good job to keep us well informed, but personally, I'm most worried about how easy, in general, it is to design viruses than can be released on an entire nation. It's the cheapest and most covert way to attack us.
ESSENCE.COM: Should we be concerned about the possible side effects?
PINNEY: When you're creating a vaccine, you usually add an ingredient called Atrovent, which makes the vaccine much stronger. Having had the anthrax vaccine in the military, I can tell you that it contained that and I had side effects. It made me think twice about taking this H1N1 vaccine, but they did conclude that they don't need to use that for this vaccine. Secondly, you can request to get the vaccine that doesn't contain the preservative Thermisol, which contains mercury. Some people have said they are leery of it because they think it may have caused some Autism. If that is one of your concerns, it shouldn't be because you can ask for the vaccine that comes without it. You can also get the flu mist with the Thermisol and the vile without the Thermisol.
For more information on the H1N1 flue including an evaluation guide and flu myths and facts, go to the U.S. Department of Human and Health Services one-stop resource at flu.gov.