Opinion: Don’t underestimate the flu

Recent reports of death and illness stemming from the start of the influenza season underlines the importance of vaccinations.

The most severe cases so far have been in Alberta, where health officials estimate the virus has killed 10 people.

In B.C., while the numbers are not as high, Fraser Health reports 30 people in hospital, all suspected of having the H1N1 strain of the flu. One person has died, but it is not confirmed if H1N1 is to blame.

To many, H1N1 is a familiar name. They remember the widespread concern when it was first identified as the “swine flu” in 2009. They also remember that despite dire warnings of an impending pandemic, the virus passed without much damage.

For health officials, that success was a direct result of the intensive vaccination efforts made worldwide.

To skeptics, however, it was just another sign of unwarranted alarm and manufactured panic.

Indeed, it is easy to under-appreciate the flu threat. After all, who hasn’t contracted the virus at some point? For many it’s simply part of winter and nothing worse than a nasty cold.

What they forget is the fact that influenza is not some static disease. It is constantly changing to undermine the defenses we build. If successful, the consequences can be devastating.

In 1918 the most deadly conflict the world had ever seen was nearing its bloody end. But as tragic as the First World War was, more people died in the flu pandemic that struck that year than in the entire war. Estimates put the global death toll at between 50 million and 100 million people. In Canada, the disease claimed 50,000 lives – many of them young and in their prime of life.

Many would like to think that the scale of that pandemic is ancient history. But the fact is the only thing preventing its resurgence are the actions we take to contain an outbreak.

We have the tools at our disposal to reduce the risk.

But it’s up to us to use them.

For more information about influenza and vaccination clinics, see immunizebc.ca

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