Mid-December I started to get a tickle in my throat. I knew the score. I only get sick about once a year, and this was going to be it. I took some precautionary measures – homeopathic meds that included vitamin C and zinc. I worked half days. Then it came on strong. With a fever of 102 I decided it was time to visit the doctor to see what I had gotten myself into.
Influenza A – the “bad” flu. Its subtypes include all these terrible sounding viruses: Swine Flu, Bird Flu, and H1N1. The doctor informed me that I was the first recorded case of the season at the clinic. Patient Zero.
I was supposed to attend a work conference that weekend. My doctor advised me not to travel, but I did anyway. My flight was non-refundable and my mother-in-law would be meeting us because we were bringing the baby. It was the baby’s first airplane trip.
Sitting in my hotel room I realized how stupid it was for me to travel. I’m an active vector for a potentially deadly virus. My largest fear was that my daughter would contract the virus and complications would arise. The doctor had foreseen this, so my infant daughter was on preventative medication. Then there’s my mother-in-law who would return to take care of her mother who has cancer. What if the virus spread? Infants and the elderly are the most vulnerable, especially if they have already compromised immune systems.
Shame. Guilt. NyQuil.
Viruses & Computer Viruses – strikingly similar
Most of the day in the hotel was spent reading Wikipedia about influenza and viruses in general. Viruses are terrifying. They aren’t really living things, described as “organisms at the edge of life”. They’re just microscopic particles of genetic code, waiting to use your body to perpetuate itself.
They have quite a bit in common with computer viruses. By itself, the virus can’t do anything. You usually have to do something stupid to contract a virus: re-using needles, unprotected sex, blindly running executable files from the internet. Then it spreads by seemingly harmless activity: touching, sneezing, connecting to the internet.
The virus needs you to do it’s thing. It needs action to be contracted, it needs your cells to reproduce, it needs you to send it out to infect others. It takes over the cells it’s infected, and forces them to instead make more viruses. Your cells will keep making copies of the virus until it bursts open like a spider egg coming apart at the seams. The reason we get a cough, runny nose, and sore throat is because we breathed in the virus. It started attacking cells in our sinuses, then dripped down into our throat. Gross.
Does the flu vaccine work?
I’ll admit it, I was a skeptic of the flu vaccine. When I was a kid, I got one shot for the Measles and then I was set for life. Why do I have to get a flu vaccine every year? Obviously science isn’t working or it’s some sort of scam. Or is it?
Turns out that these little virus bastards are reproducing so fast that they’re mutating into new strains, which may be immune to the current vaccination. The World Health Organization has to constantly play a cat-and-mouse game to predict what strains are likely to outbreak in next year’s season so they can be included in the vaccine. When you get a shot, it’s not just for one strain, but 3 or 4 strains that include both Influenza A and B.
Even if they don’t predict spot-on, there’s a chance that your body will have produced some anti-bodies that are close enough to effectively fight whatever strain you come into contact with. So do yourself (and your family) a favor. Get a flu shot. I know I will be.