If News Of An American Ebola Death Scared You, I Hope You Got Your Flu Shot This Year

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sick boy in bedRecently, the Ebola virus claimed its first victim in the United States: a man in Texas named Thomas Duncan. My heart hurts for Duncan’s family and friends, and for the health care worker who’s now come down with Ebola after working Duncan’s case. But for all the people panicking about whether they or their children could be next, I have to wonder: if they’re so afraid of Ebola striking in the USA, are they having the same reaction to the oncoming flu season?

During the 2013-2014 flu season, more than a hundred children died from the flu. For those of us who aren’t mathematically inclined, that is approximately a hundred times more people than have died from Ebola in the United States so far; and that tally isn’t at all unusual when compared to previous years, either. And while there’s nothing you can do to prevent your child from catching Ebola virus (short of steering them well clear of anyone who’s barfing blood), there is something you can do about the flu: 90% of those pediatric flu deaths? They occurred in unvaccinated children.

Now, yes, before the anti-vax objection is raised, that does mean 10% of the deaths were children who had been vaccinated, and who either didn’t have a strong enough immune response to be protected, or who were infected within the short period between getting that flu jab and when its super-science force field effect could take place. That, however, is an argument for making sure more kids get immunized for the flu, not fewer: the more of a potentially unprotected child’s social circle is protected, the less likely she is to get sick. Also, as long as we’re at it, let’s get this out of the way too: No, the flu shot cannot give your child the flu. No, it’s not “better” or “more natural” for your child to develop immunity the hard way via an infection versus a shot. And no, your kids eating organic and being generally healthy little people is not enough to protect them, the same way that being physically fit is not going to keep you safe in a car accident where you weren’t wearing your seat belt.

So if you’re currently gnawing your nails to the bone over Ebola since you can’t do anything about it: 1.) don’t do that, because exposed bone is prone to infection; 2.) don’t call your doctor about “Ebola symptoms” unless you’ve come into contact with mysterious bodily fluids; and 3.) spend your energy trying to prevent the things you can actually do something about – like the flu. You’re probably going to hear a lot more about American Ebola cases on the news than you are about the flu, and you’re going to hear gossip about how Ebola might be in your friend’s cousin’s child’s school: because Ebola in the USA is new, and new things are scary, and scary things get talked about. The flu is old, and old things are boring, and boring things are the ones that are more likely to sneak up and kill you while you’re tuned into CNN’s seventh straight hour of Texan Ebola coverage. Take all the nervous energy you might have otherwise devoted to Ebola worries, and use them to put your kids in the car, take them to your local clinic, and get them (and yourself) vaccinated. And maybe spare a thought for the thousands of people in Africa who have something real to worry about when it comes to Ebola.

(Image: Rob Hainer/Shutterstock)