Coping With a Fear of the Flu

For the moment, the paramount threat of both seasonal and avian flu is fear, ignorance, irrational behavior, panic. While either flu may spread death and illness beyond our control, there are specific things we can do.

For instance, instead of wringing our hands, we could start washing them more often. Get a regular seasonal flu shot now, not only for its own sake but because if you later get the flu, epidemiologists will know it is a new strain and you can begin prompt treatment.

If you have the flu, don't go to work (although that is not easy to recommend to the roughly half of working Americans who get no paid sick days). And for goodness' sake, don't send sick toddlers to the petri dish of day care.

Global viruses adapt faster than humans do, but we must do what we can to prevent or limit disease, or those Asian chickens will really come home to roost.

Jessie Gruman

President

Center for the Advancement of Health

Washington

The article ["A Shot of Fear," Oct. 25] was quite valuable. However, we retired profs-turned-beach bums can always find a nit or two to pick, so here goes.

First, by stating that "someone who dies from a heart attack . . . might not get counted as a flu death," you will have confused the unwary, as the cause of death was stated to be not flu, but cardiac. Better to say "someone who has a heart attack while suffering from the flu," thus leaving the debate open.

As to the explanation of the mortality risk of flu, the authors left out the most important ratio of all, that with the denominator being those patients who actually have the flu. The risk of flu death is zero in those who don't have the flu (barring voodoo, etc.). Thus if the flu death risk in those over 65 is 1 per 1,000, but 4 percent of those over 65 get the flu, then the risk is a startling 1 per 40! Talk about panic in the streets!

F.B. Westervelt, MD

Ocracoke, N.C.

I have noticed a recent shift in the media and public acceptance of alternative viewpoints on the subject of vaccine necessity, safety and repercussions. By alternate viewpoint I mean something other than an unquestioning, "yes, all are good" attitude.

The new partnership forged between government and big pharma, through the passage of the Bioshield II bill, should leave a feeling of uneasiness with everyone, regardless of their stance on vaccination issues. This bill absolves pharmaceutical companies of any liability from injured parties in the event of a government-mandated vaccination program.

Vaccinations are a good idea and are effective for some people, some of the time. Vaccinations are not a good idea if they are forced on everyone without the possibility of informed consent and if there is no recourse for those who are injured through the use of the forced vaccinations.

Heidi Hewlett

Honesdale, Pa.

The article makes the point that scientists trying to isolate the effect of the vaccine using lab tests rather than the less specific "clinical" flu find that the chance of lab-confirmed flu in the vaccinated group is 2 percent vs. 7 percent in the non-vaccinated control group. Applying these figures to a hypothetical populations of 1,000 persons, you would expect only 20 cases of flu among the 1,000 vaccinees vs. 70 cases among 1,000 non-vaccinees; i.e., you would prevent 50 cases of flu, a reduction of approximately 71 percent of expected cases.

This, for my money, given the rather low cost of flu shots, is a real and not an exaggerated benefit.

William H. Barker, MD

Edin Emeritus Professor

Preventive Medicine and Gerontology

Department of Community

and Preventive Medicine

Rochester, N.Y.

The statement, "We are not suggesting that Americans forgo flu vaccines. We simply want to help people make informed decisions" is the most important one in the article.

The government cannot expect us to simply trust them and their recommendations/requirements without giving us the information needed to make an informed decision based on our own personal needs. While the "greater good" is important, when it comes to your own health or the health of your family, the priority is evident.

Amy Memory

Winston-Salem, N.C.

Faith-Based Coverage

How can one possibly be a Christian ["Seeking Divine Protection," Oct. 25] and think that the only sick who should be treated are ones who came by their sicknesses "morally," while excluding those who came by their sicknesses "immorally"? If there is a hallmark to Christian ethics -- and I write as someone who tries to practice Christian ethics -- it is that it is precisely those "most in need of mercy" who have the greatest claim on it, from God and from us. The world may distinguish between the deserving and the undeserving, but a Christian cannot, at least cannot do so and still be a Christian.

Peter A. Alaimo

Phoenix

Matthew Gregory, pastor of Soul Purpose Church, suggests that there is "more illness" among "people in nontraditional family situations."

I am not sure on what facts this comment is based or why anyone would make such a suggestion. Is there any evidence that this is true? Is he suggesting that there is more "forbidden" activity among these families, such as tobacco use or HIV that is not "contracted innocently"? Or that these families may suffer more health problems because they cannot afford medical bills or insurance? If he is suggesting the latter, that would be a bit ironic, given that so-called Christian families such as the Gregorys that subscribe to church health plans do so for economic reasons. If it's the former, I find it interesting that a so-called Christian makes himself so busy judging people.

Deanna Lacques

Springfield

It's good to see that someone's making health care reachable for those who need it. I only hope that overzealous regulators (or greedy health care insurers) don't get in the way where people are actually taking action rather than simply talking about it.

Mike Sobola

Arlington