Thuppal: Prescription for H1N1

By Hay Thuppal

I don’t think anyone will doubt the possible dangers of the H1N1 virus or that we need to… I don’t think anyone will doubt the possible dangers of the H1N1 virus or that we need to protect ourselves from it.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, H1N1 is widespread in 41 states. As of Oct. 23, it has caused more than 1,000 deaths across the United States.

The statistics are obvious, but what is not is how we should go about preventing H1N1 and stopping the spread of what the World Heath Organization has declared a modern pandemic.

A variety of options exist: vaccines, hand sanitizers, vitamins, medications and good, old-fashioned hand washing.

But which one is best for you?

Sterilizing products have not done much to improve the situation. Rubbing a little Purell onto your hands will keep them clean from germs found in bathrooms, computer labs and other public places on campus.

But are we taking it too far, replacing hand washing with sanitizing?

What we gain today might be our loss in the future. The negative impact from our methods of preventing the flu is twofold: It weakens our immune systems and makes future pathogens deadlier.

The virus that causes H1N1, as well as other types of harmful bacteria, change constantly and can reappear in different forms each year. Our push to eliminate these pathogens from our lives will drive their evolution into more complex and resilient strains.

Versions of the drug-resistant H1N1 have started to appear around the world. The cause is an overuse of preventative measures and treatments, like Purell and Tamiflu.

The ease of availability of these hand sanitizers and medications makes us increasingly reliant and paranoid. We are taking medications at any hint of sickness. Our hands can be clean after washing them with soap and water, too.

Although there are still many doubters, the H1N1 vaccine seems to be well prepared and thoroughly tested.

There is no evidence to suggest that this year’s vaccine is dangerous — it has no correlation with Guillain-Barre syndrome caused by the flu vaccine of 1976.

Still, that doesn’t excuse the New York State Department of Health from mandating all its employees to get vaccinated.

Consider that a much lower percentage of Americans older than 65 years have acquired H1N1. Some believe that in being previously exposed to a similar strain of the flu, they have developed an immunity to this year’s flu. The vaccine, however, does not guarantee protection from H1N1, which means one doesn’t develop that same resistance.

The fear of catching H1N1 flu this year has interrupted our routines beyond reason.

Students at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., have been asked to refrain from playing beer pong after an outbreak of illness that officials fear might be H1N1.

Roman Catholic parishioners of the Diocese of Raleigh, N.C., have been instructed not to offer wine for the sacrament of communion.

The paranoia over H1N1 is absurd. Yes, we are all are susceptible, but we have no obligation to get the vaccine or drastically alter our lifestyle.

Those who are most at risk, particularly pregnant women, should more carefully consider getting the vaccine, as H1N1 has caused multiple cases involving hospitalization and death.

But the rest of us have a good chance of only being kept in bed for a few days with the virus, provided we receive proper treatment.

What’s more, the seasonal flu causes 36,000 deaths per year, yet there is not nearly as much hype for it.

I’m not advocating against the H1N1 vaccine for the majority of us because I think it will give children autism or because I, as a brash college student, believe my body is indestructible.

I am, however, doubting the need to worry over a disease that has been blown out of proportion.

The best preventative measure is common sense.

Don’t expose yourself to others if you’re sick. If you haven’t caught anything yet, wash your hands frequently and take steps to boost your immunity — get more sleep, eat regularly, etc. Your body will be more adept to fighting off infections if it isn’t already weakened through an unruly lifestyle.

The perceived threat of H1N1 should not govern our lives. It shouldn’t make us pour globs of Purell into our hands before touching anything or wait hours in line to get a vaccine.

The advances that medicine and science have made over the years have given us a better understanding of our world and the organisms with which we share it. However, this knowledge is being taken out of context, causing us to overuse, overprescribe and possibly put ourselves in danger.

E-mail Hay at [email protected].