There has been a lot of recent concern about the possibility of a flu epidemic in the United States. Many people have pointed back to the great Spanish flu epidemic of 1918, which swept through Europe and the United States, killing possibly 50 million people. We have not had a worldwide flu epidemic in over 30 years, so we are overdue.
The most important public health measure is to innoculate all the children. Why? Because studies of the flu in Japan and Texas have demonstated fairly convincingly that the flu virus is typically passed through communities by children. It is the elderly who typically die of the flu, but it is children who usually spread it.
If you have kids, especially kids in school or daycare, get them immunized. It is more important that kids get the shots than their parents. Adults typically have a 60% response rate to the flu shot (that is, 60% of adults who get the shot will become resistant to the flu), while kids have a 90% response rate. Thus, if your kids or grandkids get the shot, you will probably be better protected than if you get it yourself.
Bring your kids to their doctor.
The latest bit of medical nonsense is the elimination of petting zoos. It seems that a few cases of E.coli intestinal infections have been traced to contact children have had with animals, expecially goats, in petting zoos. This infection can lead to a very rare condition called hemolytic uremia, which causes permanent kidney failure. There is at least one documented case of a child who ended up on dialysis as a result of contact with zoo animals.
Although this is being treated as a new issue by the media, it is not. It has been known for decades that children can acquire many different infections from animals. Some infectious disease experts have suggested that children should not have pets because of this risk.
It all seems excessive. Yes, there is maybe a 100,000-to-one chance that your child could catch E. coli from a zoo goat. But the average child's chances of drowning in a swimming pool or being killed in a car accident is much greater, and no one is considering banning swimming pools or automobiles. Children need to be around animals. Contact with animals helps kids to learn and understand other living things. Touching animals, which was a given a century ago when most kids grew up on farms, is now only an occasional experience for many kids.
Everything a child does involves a small risk. The only way to avoid all risk is to chain kids to their beds and never let them out. But this is not what life is all about. We have a responsibility to protect our kids from unneccessary risks. We have an equal responsibility, though, to push our children out into the world so they can learn and grow, and this means taking a little risk from time to time.
If we fear every threat, no matter how distant, we shelter our kids, and teach them excessive caution and fear. Is fear the lesson you want your kids to learn?
Welcome to my blog! I am a physician practicing in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics in McComb, Mississippi. In this blog I will be focussing on issues in medical ethics and on the social aspects of medicine. I lost my home and medical practice in Chalmette, Louisiana to Hurricane Katrina, so I will also talk about my experiences with Katrina from time to time.