Tuesday, 1 November 2011

I won't be giving 'flu to anyone this year - will you?

I’ve just had my ‘flu jab. I’ve got to be honest - I had to work quite hard to get it this year. Normally, occupational health beg us to turn up and be immunised. Not this year.

The ‘flu jab often gets a hard press - how many times have you heard someone say that the ‘flu jab gave them ‘flu? Alarmingly, how many times have you heard doctors say it? I have clerked in many patients who have said to me that they were doing fine until they had the jab. It took me a while to work out what was going on, because if you believe the patients, the ‘flu jab is responsible for a range of ills, from lung fibrosis, through strokes to road traffic accidents. There is, of course, no causality here - the jab is merely an innocent bystander in the chaos of illogical reasoning.

In rather the same way as Christmas seems to run from the beginning of November to the middle of January (‘How long have you been poorly?’ ‘Since Christmas.’), the memory of the 'flu jab tends to linger, and we tend to have the ‘flu jab when lots of colds are going around. Perhaps it still instinctively feels like a risk to purposefully go looking to spark up the immune system.

I am not fastidious about many things, but I am about my annual immunisation. There are two reasons for this: I am tired of seeing my elderly patients laid low or killed by infections they pick up in hospital. If by having the immunisation I can reduce their risk of a potentially fatal viral infection, then I can see no plausible reason for not having it.

Secondly, I got married last December, in the middle of a raging ‘flu season - many of the guests at my nuptials turned up with streaming, influenzal upper airways, and many of the other guests caught it, and spent the next week laid up in bed. I, however, was smugly immune to their pestilance, and not only had a wonderful day, but also had a wonderful honeymoon, uninterrupted by seasonal viruses.

I am often disheartened by how many of my colleagues decline to offer themselves up for the ‘flu jab, and the discussion usually centres on their low risk of getting ‘flu. As you know, I think that this argument misses the point, and the main reason for the jab is patient protection. But it goes further than that: we work in a health service where many of the employees fail to avail themselves of an effective prophylaxis against a nasty illness. It’s almost like being a chef who won’t eat his own food: by failing to use our own therapies and best practices, we are visibly failing to endorse the service we offer. How does this impact on patients?

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