Influenza kills – the flu vaccine saves lives, it’s fairly simple

During the 2016-17 flu season, over 100 children died from the virus. Yet, only 60% of children were vaccinated, despite the fact influenza kills.

Not only do children die of the flu, but between 12,000 – 56,000 adults die every year from the flu in the USA. Some of those people are healthy young adults. In some years, the flu kills more people than many other things that we consider dangerous, like firearms and cars.

It’s difficult to understand why parents seem to ignore the flu vaccine for themselves or for their children. Many people just don’t think the flu is that dangerous. Or they think the vaccine doesn’t work. Or they believe in some other myth that simply isn’t true.

Whatever the reason for avoiding the vaccine for children or adults, it’s important that people know what the flu can do, even for a healthy child or adult. It’s not a disease you can ignore, despite the claims of the anti-vaccine corps. And the flu cannot be treated or prevented by supplements or vitamins

Influenza kills – how?

The flu kills older people usually as a result of complications like pneumonia, cardiac arrest, and other conditions.

However, flu has a completely different effect in younger, healthier people. If they contract some subtypes of influenza A, it can be more deadly to healthy young adults than to elderly and infants.

The H1N1 subtype of influenza A causes more severe complications in adults. For example, it can cause blood hemorrhaging from mucous membranes, especially from the nose, stomach, and intestine, but also of the eyes, ears, from the skin in general. The reason these organs are specifically attacked is because they are line with epithelial cells that the virus colonizes. The immune system attacks the tissue, trying to kill these cells that are producing the virus. This is one way influenza kills.

Another serious complication from the influenza A subtypes is encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain. This complication develops mainly in children below 5 years of age. It happens so quickly that there is little time to treat it (see Note 1).  And another way influenza kills.

In other cases of influenza A, fluid accumulates in the lungs, making it difficult to breathe and preventing oxygen from reaching the blood stream. The virus contains a protein called M2, which damages other proteins that are necessary to clear fluid from the lungs. The healthy young immune system then attacks the virus, but the immune system ends up causing additional damage to previously healthy lung tissue. Healthy cells are killed alongside infected cells, which leads to a lack of gas exchange in the lungs, causing the victims to essentially drown. And one more way influenza kills.

Influenza kills – maternal and fetal outcomes

We’ve discussed this many times. Pregnant women who contract the flu virus tend to have lower maternal and fetal outcomes. Why? Because the flu virus can penetrate the placental barrier and infect the developing fetus.

We have powerful evidence (along with this study) that contracting the flu during pregnancy is correlated with a higher risk of autism. In fact, a flu infection during pregnancy nearly doubles the risk for the child to develop autism spectrum disorder. And no, there is no evidence that receiving the vaccine during pregnancy increases the risk of autism.

Furthermore, the flu is linked to poorer maternal outcomes such as  miscarriage, preterm labor and premature birth and birth defects. Yes, influenza kills the fetus in pregnant women.

Despite a weak study that tried to show that the flu vaccine was linked to miscarriages, we have powerful evidence that the flu vaccine during pregnancy actually reduces adverse maternal outcomes.

Why is the flu so dangerous to pregnant women? The reasons are actually quite simple – a pregnant woman’s organs, such as heart and lungs, are already working quite hard to support the fetus. A viral infection that puts extra stress on the heart and lungs, such as the flu, can cause harm to the developing fetus. Yes, another way influenza kills.

Summary

Influenza kills children. Influenza kills the elderly. Influenza kills healthy adults. Influenza kills a fetus. The flu is one dangerous virus, despite the beliefs of the anti-vaccine world.

And here’s something else. Only the flu vaccine can boost your immune system to prevent the flu.

I know, there are dozens of myths about the flu vaccine. There are general myths. There are the healthcare worker myths. And of course, there’s the “the flu vaccine isn’t very effective, so why bother?” Other than being a nearly ideal example of the Nirvana fallacy, that is, if the flu vaccine isn’t perfect, it must be worthless, it ignores the fact that influenza kills.

In 2015-16, over 5 million Americans averted the flu as a result of the flu vaccine. Yes, 5 million. Over 2,880 deaths were averted as a result of the flu vaccine. And that was a year with a relatively low vaccine effectiveness, ranging from 24-57% effective, depending on the age group and other factors.

We don’t know what the vaccine effectiveness will be for the 2017-18 flu season, but we know one thing – any deaths averted by the flu vaccine is a good thing. Because of how the vaccine is developed (changing it year to year to deal with new flu virus mutations), it’s difficult for it to have the high effectiveness of other vaccines like those for measles or chickenpox. But again, if it can save a few hundred or a few thousand lives, we should celebrate the vaccine.

Notes

  1. Technically, the virus replicates in the epithelium of the pharynx, which then affects the olfactory mucosa, located in the upper regions of the nasal cavity. This then stimulates nerves that transmit signals to the brain via the olfactory nerve system. This signal eventually activates neuroglia (support and protective cells of the neurons in the brain) that induces the production of  cytokines, small proteins of the immune system which cause inflammation. This results in a cytokine storm, an immune reaction where the production of cytokines explode, which then causes additional neural cell damage as well as the death of glial cells. This disruption of the blood-brain barrier progresses rapidly, resulting in death.

Citations

The Original Skeptical Raptor
Chief Executive Officer at SkepticalRaptor

Lifetime lover of science, especially biomedical research. Spent years in academics, business development, research, and traveling the world shilling for Big Pharma. I love sports, mostly college basketball and football, hockey, and baseball. I enjoy great food and intelligent conversation. And a delicious morning coffee!