NEW BREMEN — It’s not often that people are urged to follow the herd, but when it comes to influenza immunization, keeping up with herd could save lives.
Auglaize County Health Department Assistant Director of Nursing Becky Egbert said it is called “Herd Immunity” and results when 83 to 94 percent of the population are immunized, which protects the most vulnerable.
With the first reported hospitalization for influenza — of a 20-month-old Auglaize County child recently — health officials say it’s not too late to get immunized against what can be a deadly infection. Children as young as 6 months can be immunized against influenza. The Health Department and pharmacists can do immunizations of people 7 and older.
Egbert said getting an immunization can at least partially protect each individual, even if the vaccine does not perfectly match the predominate flu strains that season. She also said her department is only notified when a person is hospitalized with the flu, so it is possible there could be more infections the health department is not hearing about. She said the most intense time of influenza infection comes around the holidays.
Pharmacist Kathy Ehemann, of Schwieterman Pharmacy in New Bremen, said getting an immunization is a very simple process.
“Just come in with your Medicare or insurance information, and we will have you fill out the forms,” she said. Then a pharmacist will administer the shot in a private room. “It takes around 10 to 15 minutes.”
Contrary to misinformation, she said it is not possible to contract influenza from the dead viruses in an immunization shot. But, she reminds people that it takes two weeks for a body to build up an immunity.
Not getting an immunization can be risky.
During last year’s flu season, the CDC reported approximately 80,000 people died in the United States died of the disease. It was one of the highest death tolls in many years, killing more people than car crashes or drug overdoses. The World Health Organization estimates that worldwide, influenza sickens 3 to 5 million each year and causes the deaths of 290,000 people each year.
If an influenza virus makes a dramatic mutation, the situation can worsen rapidly. In 2009, the so-called swine flu infected people with a type of influenza virus never seen before and to which the human population had little immunity. It’s been estimated 203,000 died from this pandemic worldwide.
But, according to the CDC, the 1918 pandemic (H1N1 virus) was the most severe pandemic in recent history. Although there is no certainty where the this influenza started, it spread worldwide during 1918-1919.
According to the article, “The Next Pandemic,” published recently in The Smithsonian magazine in collaboration with Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, it is suspected this 1918 influenza began in the United States in an area under major bird migration routes with large quantities of swine. The article reports that “when a bird influenza virus and a human influenza virus infect the same pig cell, their different genes can be shuffled and exchanged like playing cards, resulting in a new, perhaps especially lethal, virus.”
The CDC estimated the 1918 virus infected an estimated 500 million people worldwide — about one-third of the planet’s population — and killed an estimated 20 million to 50 million victims, including some 675,000 Americans.
The 1918 influenza pandemic killed more people than World War 1, the world’s most deadly war, which killed almost 7 million civilians and 10 million military personnel. All cemeteries world-wide that were in existence in 1918 have large open areas marking mass graves of those killed by influenza during that time because people were dying too quickly to be buried individually.