I knew I was in trouble the instant my 2-year-old rubbed his face and then laid his damp little hand on my cheek. No symptoms yet, but the sign was clear: Cold and flu season is in full swing.
A few days later, he was streaming from the nose and I was wishing I'd bought stock in Purell. A few days after that, he was fine but I'd been felled by a fever so high even I had to call in to work (and, if you've been reading my blog, The 36-Hour Day, you know I rarely ever call in sick). More...
Our company's medical department offers the flu shot, but I'm not going to get it. And when I took my youngest two kids in for their annual checkups last week, they didn't get it either. Call me a bad parent, if you like -- plenty of others already have -- but I believe that a good, soapy hand-washing does more to prevent the spread of bacteria and viruses than the flu vaccine.
Aside from the whole Thimerosal issue (the flu vaccine is one of the few that still uses the mercury-laced preservative), the real reason I'm avoiding the flu vaccine is that it doesn't work for about 85 percent of people who exhibit flu-like symptoms.
Why not? Two reasons. The formulation of the vaccine changes every year, kind of a luck-of-the-draw attempt to come up with a vaccine that will be effective against the widest range of flu strains out there. But, according to The Center for Medical Consumers: Researchers divide influenza into two types, influenza A or B, and "all other forms of influenza." Both kinds produce exactly the same symptoms -- headache, fever, muscle aches, cough, and runny nose. And the vaccine only works on some versions of influenza A or B, and not on the "all other forms."
Even if I did happen to fall among the less-than-15-percent of people who have a form of the flu that the vaccine can prevent, it takes as long as two weeks for your body to start producing antibodies once you've gotten the shot. Which means that you can end up with a sore arm AND a raging case of the flu. Which, coincidentally, is exactly what happened to me the first and only time I got a flu shot, years and years ago.
Apparently, that's not uncommon. An article on Web MD points out that last season's flu shot was one of the least effective in the past decade, preventing or minimizing the flu for only 44 percent of people who received the vaccine. That's 44 percent of the 15 percent for whom it's effective, mind you.
Thanks, but no thanks. I'll take my chances with my kids and their daycare bugs. What I have right now may be the flu -- in which case, I've got some kick-ass antibodies in development. And if it's not, well, I'll just brace myself for the season ahead.
Lylah M. Alphonse is a full-time editor, a freelance writer, and mom and step mom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Dayon Work It, Mom!, and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat.
[photo credit: Getty Images]