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Not THAT kind of virus.
January 10, 2013 10:49 PM   Subscribe

Google uses searches for flu symptoms to track each year's strain's intensity and spread. In 2013, the US is basically doomed.

For those interested, here's how Google's latest Fu works, and a whole lot more in the FAQs. [Previously]

And for those that need it, CDC information on this year's flu.
posted by OHSnap (87 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Madagascar safe as always.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 10:57 PM on January 10, 2013 [30 favorites]


There's been some talk that the most common flu mutations are significantly different from what went out in the inoculations this year.

Dunno if that's true or not, but anecdotally a lot of people who had the inoculation now have the flu anyway.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:58 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


That jibes with my unexamined but deeply held belief that the flu shot is worse than useless.
posted by 2bucksplus at 11:04 PM on January 10, 2013 [9 favorites]


A decade ago, when we had widespread circulation (of the seasonal flu), we had 70,000 deaths in the U.S," Gregory Poland, a director at the Mayo Clinic, told USA Today.

Someone help me out. Did I sleep through this ten years ago? I don't recall hearing out anything like that number. Right now, there have been reports of dozens of deaths due to the flu -- if this is a very early, strong start to flu season, are they really expecting 30K, 40K, 70K people to die?
posted by buzzv at 11:07 PM on January 10, 2013


Tell Me No Lies, this is being discussed in AskMe right now. The flu shot is a pretty good match for what's out there (about 60% effective, versus the usual 65-70% effectiveness) so of course some people who get the shot will still get the flu. But apparently fewer people are getting flu shots, so they aren't even getting that level of protection. Herd immunity is real, y'all.
posted by maudlin at 11:10 PM on January 10, 2013 [20 favorites]


NPR: How many people die from the flu each year?
But if you were to look at just the past 10 seasons, the average per year is higher — 32,743.

Or you can look at this way: In some years as few as 3,349 have died (back in 1986-7). But the highest annual average toll was 48,614, just seven seasons ago (2003-4).
Hope that helps.
posted by Davenhill at 11:11 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


It doesn't help that there are some other nasties going around too.
posted by p3t3 at 11:15 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Those death figures are mostly proximate cause eg. flu weakens immune system leads to pneumonia in elderly then death.
posted by stbalbach at 11:17 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


p3t3 - I work at a children's charity. We haven't seen whooping cough here yet, but the other two are in full swing.

Maybe the Mayans were just off a few weeks on their end-times math...
posted by OHSnap at 11:20 PM on January 10, 2013


Tell Me No Lies, this is being discussed in AskMe right now.

Interesting stuff. Thanks for the pointer.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:22 PM on January 10, 2013


If you compare Google Trends for "plague" and "plaque" you see that "plaque" has a greater search volume.

I think it's a kind of thing where people worry about diseases sweeping across the planet, annihilating life as we know it, but put more energy into day to day concerns about good dental health.

Brush your teeth! Fight plaque! Save the world one tooth at a time!
posted by twoleftfeet at 11:25 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Someone help me out. Did I sleep through this ten years ago?

Flu, pneumonia, and other infectious respiratory diseases are still a common cause of death in the developed world. The reason one doesn't hear of it very often is that it tends to be deadly only in certain patient populations—the very old, the very young, the very sick, the immunocompromised, etc. To put it bluntly, infectious diseases usually pick off the weakest members of the herd. And yes, as stbalbach mentions, they tend to occur as secondary complications (opportunistic infections) to other conditions or illnesses.
posted by dephlogisticated at 11:26 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Argh. I didn't get my flu shot this year for the first time in7 years; I've been most home bound due to an unrelated illness. And even though I've frequently been at the doctor, I've forgotten every time to ask about the flu shot. So I started to try and chase it down this past week, but places are out or have had insanely long waits. And now, I think I'm getting the flu, I'm getting the lovely scratchy throat and just feel myself going down hill. Probably from being exposed to people in places I've been seeking the flu shot.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 11:27 PM on January 10, 2013


only Reno, Takoma Park, and Beverly Hills have anything less than high flu activity

Not that I expected to get the flu any time soon, but having the job site on this list is nice.
posted by carsonb at 11:30 PM on January 10, 2013


I always hesitate to bring this up because of how callous it sounds, but it's a major source of moral dissonance for me.

How do we jibe this kind of preventative work with that knowledge that we're approximately 1000% overpopulated as a planet?
posted by cmoj at 11:33 PM on January 10, 2013


Dunno if that's true or not, but anecdotally a lot of people who had the inoculation now have the flu anyway.

FWIW, my husband and I both got the shot and both got the flu. I still have a bad cough from it.
posted by Malice at 11:34 PM on January 10, 2013


According to Google's state-by-state map, only Connecticut has anything less than high flu activity right now.

Oh, well, at least --

Update: Connecticut has registered a sharp increase in flu searches, and is now has "Intense" flu activity.

Ah, hell.
posted by dirigibleman at 11:37 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Dunno if that's true or not, but anecdotally a lot of people who had the inoculation now have the flu anyway

This was me! I always get my flu shot, but still I spent last week huddled in a nest of blankets swigging NyQuil like a sailor. It is a nasty strain, too, it seems.
posted by winna at 11:49 PM on January 10, 2013


Has anyone found anywhere where google describes the search terms they're using in detail, rather than just the vague terms on the trends website?

Personally, I've never had the flu*.
What this tells me is that when Captain Trips comes along, I'll either be one of the very first casualties or making a pilgrimage to Boulder.

* At least not so bad that I've ever noticed.
posted by madajb at 12:00 AM on January 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


cmoj - we're approximately 1000% overpopulated as a planet?
where does that figure come from? we're not overpopulated. scarcity is a myth, said Buckminster Fuller, and he was smarter than I am. there's a distribution of resource problem, not an overpopulation problem. there's a resource utilization problem, creating vast amounts of pollution, not an overpopulation problem. yes, a smaller population would make a smaller mess, but it's kind of hard to go backwards on purpose, I think. one more reason to settle the Moon and Mars, but we'll only mess up those planets as we've messed up ours.
posted by TMezz at 12:24 AM on January 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


My understanding is right now we're dealing with an early onset flu season, a flu like virus that the flu shot doesn't protect against, a resurgence of whooping cough, and norovirus. So even if you got the flu shot, you have three more nasty bugs you might end up with. Those of you that are getting sick even though hour have had the flu shot, it might be working and you just got one of the other bugs. (yay!)
posted by [insert clever name here] at 12:30 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


How do we jibe this kind of preventative work with that knowledge that we're approximately 1000% overpopulated as a planet?

Are we?
posted by atrazine at 2:08 AM on January 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Dunno if that's true or not, but anecdotally a lot of people who had the inoculation now have the flu anyway

From articles I have seen, the flu shot tends to reduce the number of incidents, but not to zero; it also reduces how sick people get from it -- so a well-vaccinated population takes fewer sick days, fewer hospital days, etc, even though it doesn't prevent the flu at the same level that the measles virus prevents the measles.
posted by jeather at 2:37 AM on January 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


> My understanding is right now we're dealing with an early onset flu season, a flu like virus that the flu shot doesn't protect against, a resurgence of whooping cough, and norovirus.

I got a flu shot. But I got the flu anyway. I went to the doctor. It's H3N2, that's what's going around here. I assure you it's not whooping cough or norovirus.

This is not a particularly early onset flu season. Check the Google Flu Trends, the 2009 H1N1 peaked in October. I saw some speculation that the reason 1 in 10 people who got flu shots are getting the flu anyway, is that they got their shot too early and immunity has already declined.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:16 AM on January 11, 2013


I interviewed an infectious diseases doc yesterday who said that on average, only about 45 percent of the population gets the vaccine in any given year. And he was particularly annoyed that that number also reflects the percent of health care workers who get a vaccine, something he thinks should be mandatory for them.
posted by etaoin at 4:48 AM on January 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Meanwhile, in Indiana flu news...
posted by Thorzdad at 5:31 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Guh. I'm pretty sure I caught the H3N2 (type B this year?) flu on about the 15th of December and I'm still getting over it.

It seemed to rip through my neighborhood via the Five Point cafe/dive bar up the street around the same time. And it's still hitting Seattle hard and it's basically going through my entire local contact list - many of them who've had flu shots this year.

Warning: Really, seriously gross descriptive details follow. Because there seems to be a common theme of really intense congestion/lung goo for this one.

It started off mildly like a common cold with a sore throat which seemed to recede after just 24-48 hours like it was going to go away - and then it came back and proceeded to completely kick my ass for a solid 7-10 days, during which all of my face holes exploded with alarmingly ectoplasmic green goo. Tissues? Hankies? No, I went through half a dozen hand towels and three bath towels in the space of the first few days just blowing gunk out so I could breathe.

We're talking I had to stay home not just because I was that miserable - I wasn't, really, the body aches seemed to mainly not there - but because if I tried walking around or climbing a flight of stairs I'd start coughing and I'd accidentally eject huge lung cookies into my hands or elsewhere. I've been smoking for 20 years and I've never just accidentally ejected huge chunks of phlegm like that. It was fucking disgusting. I coughed up actual cups or pints of crap in various half hour long coughing sessions during the peak of it.

I'm pretty sure I went through a bout of pneumonia that I fought off without going to the hospital just through sheer hobo-grade immune system and lots of garlic, sriracha and hot soup, water and rest.

I haven't had anything kick my ass like that in 10+ years. It wasn't so much bodily painful or achy for me, but more some kind of massive and relentless respiratory and sinus infection or malaise like it was trying to drown me in filthy goo and nearly impossible to breathe, function or sleep normally.

Let me put it another way. I have never bought a bag of cough drops in my life, but I did this year. First time, ever. I was coughing so much I bruised my ribs and it hurt to move or stand up or bend the wrong way.

I don't really remember having any kind of serious fever beyond some mild initial chills and the sore throat and mildly achy prelude. After that it was just endless excretions of vile goo and sleeplessness trying to breath through said goo. I seriously woke up half-drowning so badly a few times I'd gasp for breath and sit up and immediately expel huge chunks into my hands or the nearest towel.

I can easily see this strain being a lot of trouble or outright fatal for anyone older or much younger or with respiratory issues, especially if it turns into untreated pneumonia or secondary infections.

Watch yourself and the at-risk people in your life. This one is intense and seems to sneak up on people and catch them off guard.

It does go away. I'm at like 98-99% lung capacity and normalcy now, but still... weirdly bright green goo is still trying to exit my lungs and nose and stuff.
posted by loquacious at 5:39 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure I went through a bout of pneumonia that I fought off without going to the hospital just through sheer hobo-grade immune system and lots of garlic, sriracha and hot soup, water and rest.

I'm really glad you're better. Really glad. But I do think it's smart and helpful for people who get well without going to the hospital to resist the kind of "my immune system reflects my toughness" descriptions that make it sound like seeking medical attention when you can't breathe is something that a properly adventurous, cred-having person doesn't need to do. Totally know that's not your intent, but a huge part of fighting an epidemic like this is to get people to stay home when they're sick and seek medical help at the right time, and I'm always fearful that the "I toughed it out with soup" stories contribute to the "tough people don't miss work" mentality, and that's how this stuff spreads in the first place. If indeed you got pneumonia, didn't treat it, and survived, I'm pretty sure that's more luck than soup.

As I said, really super glad you're better, but not seeing a doctor when you believe you have pneumonia strikes me as kind of a terrible idea.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 6:01 AM on January 11, 2013 [21 favorites]


I've always sort of wondered how many fewer people would get sick/die if workers felt safe in staying home when they were ill.
posted by aramaic at 6:05 AM on January 11, 2013 [15 favorites]


Jesus, loquacious...you poor bastard.

I don't know if there's something different about this strain, or what, but it's been hell. I'm one of those people who never, ever gets the flu; I've never taken the flu shot before because I see no reason to make the strains evolve into any more hardier forms than necessary. So when I was feeling kind of crappy on Sunday morning, I chalked it up to a combination hangover/general blah. By the end of the day, I ached all over, I alternated between fever and chills, I was coughing so much my ribs and/or diaphragm felt injured, my throat felt like it had been blowtorched, and I had zero energy. After a essentially sleepless night where I coughed myself awake every 15m and imagined that my body was Europe being overrun by the Mongols (I actually had visuals of this playing in my brain), I got myself to the doctor, who confirmed it was indeed the flu and prescribed Tamiflu and Robotussin w/codeine. Apart from a minor and disgusting setback on Weds when I tried going back to solid foods a bit too early, recovery has actually been pretty quick, although I'm usually a fast healer. But I have essentially quarantined myself since Sunday afternoon, drank a lot of liquids, and eaten a lot of soup and crackers. On the plus side, I've knocked out a hell of a lot of my Netflix queue, so there's that. In any event, the doctor said 5 days should be enough to get it out of my system, and so far that's looking like it might be true, but that may not apply to a lot of other people.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:06 AM on January 11, 2013


aramaic: "I've always sort of wondered how many fewer people would get sick/die if workers felt safe in staying home when they were ill."

It would be nice if US companies didn't restrict sick days or combine them with your vacation days so that you're motivated to drag your sick ass into the office and spread your virus to the rest of the company. My company doesn't do that and actually sends out email telling you to stay home.
posted by octothorpe at 6:10 AM on January 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


I've always sort of wondered how many fewer people would get sick/die if workers felt safe in staying home when they were ill.

America's shitty health system combined with shitty labor laws in many areas, plus our relatively low allowances of personal leave probably contribute to the mentality. If you were afraid you could get fired because you didn't call in sick without a doctor's note from an appointment that could cost you a couple hundred dollars, or because you were afraid you'd use up all your leave too early because so many employers don't differentiate between sick and personal days, then it's very easy to just trudge on in.

Or, on preview, kinda what octothorpe said.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:13 AM on January 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


I've never taken the flu shot before because I see no reason to make the strains evolve into any more hardier forms than necessary.

Maybe you're confusing the flu shot with viral resistance to antiviral drugs like tamiflu? Getting the flu shot isn't the same mechanism (i.e. you're not killing off all the weak strains and thus allowing the virus to evolve in a more resistant direction).
posted by gaspode at 6:13 AM on January 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


I was vaxxed at my regular checkup this fall, but I've been having a hell of a time getting my kids vaccinated - our dr and the minute clinic are just booked solid. Finally this morning we went to CVS before the clinic even opened to put our names in. It still took an hour. The kids were happy to miss some school though!

I don't know anyone who's gotten flu this year, at least not a confirmed case. But I've been hearing horror stories from other places, so I hope we can avoid it.
posted by Biblio at 6:24 AM on January 11, 2013


If your company makes you work while sick, it's only fair to spread that funk on every surface imagineable. I'd lick every keyboard, phone and stapler and sink that firm from the inside. Take that, THE MAN!
posted by Renoroc at 6:48 AM on January 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


I caught the flu for the first time on NYE - after my flight home from Florida.
Strain B or something.
I was out of work for a week.
I guess I'll start getting flu shots.
posted by KogeLiz at 7:07 AM on January 11, 2013


How do we jibe this kind of preventative work with that knowledge that we're approximately 1000% overpopulated as a planet?

By quietly killing off the weak so we can feast on the spoils.

Kent Brockman: Professor, would you say it's time for our viewers to panic?
Professor: Mmm, yes I would, Kent.
posted by yerfatma at 7:08 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Been getting the flu shot for years and have gotten only one flu while many around me were getting it very often. It is a gamble of course, they make the best guess at what might spread but they don't always get it right and so you're vulnerable to strains you're not immunized against.

I did pick up a strep throat just after Christmas but fortunately anti-biotics took care of that.

At one point I didn't get a cold or the flu for over 2 years, which was wonderful. I envy those I know (2 people) who never get a cold, flu, or headache.
posted by juiceCake at 7:23 AM on January 11, 2013


I've been getting frantic postcards and emails from our local blood center begging me to donate because the flu is causing a critical blood shortage.
posted by Karmakaze at 7:24 AM on January 11, 2013


Metafilter: Huge Lung Cookies
posted by symbioid at 7:26 AM on January 11, 2013


I got the Horrible Lung Death. It was before a semester break, and I had students who were like a hair from totally fucking up the class I teach, so I stupidly went in,

I have never had the experience of teaching 20 people by occupy method: Me: Croak croak CROAK and the students in the first row repeating the words.

My mother, whether because she is/was a maniac or because she is/was old school, was very much of the opinion that one doesn't stop unless a) fever and/or b) blood and/or c) broken bones.

DON'T BE LIKE ANGRYCAT OR ANGRYCAT MOTHER STAY HOME IF YOU POSSIBLY CAN IF YOU'RE SICK
posted by angrycat at 7:27 AM on January 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


And he was particularly annoyed that that number also reflects the percent of health care workers who get a vaccine, something he thinks should be mandatory for them.

My husband is a bio-med Ph.D. candidate and I thought it was a little funny that they are required to get yearly TB tests (he doesnt' work with viruses at all - he works with heart tissue) but they don't have to get a yearly flu shot if they don't want to.

I've never taken the flu shot before because I see no reason to make the strains evolve into any more hardier forms than necessary.

How the flu virus works is that our bodies have immune cells which "remember" viruses that we've been exposed to before - usually this means if we get H5N2 or whatever one year, we won't get it next year (but we can still get another strain of flu if it's different enough). By exposing our bodies to a latent flu-virus particles, we're actually making ourselves stronger, without the life-threatening effects of the virus itself.
posted by muddgirl at 7:27 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Angrycat - I've taught with laryngitis before. You can type line by line and let them read it on the overhead screen. They're amused enough by the novelty it works.
posted by arabelladragon at 7:38 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have gotten a flu shot every single year since I was somewhere around the 5th grade (1994-95 flu season I think). I had never gotten the flu or the flu shot before this, but that year I got the flu, and it laid me low for literally two months. It started with a lot of vomiting and a lot of aching and a horrible fever, and eventually made its way to the unbelievable amounts of mucus. I remember I got it on Christmas eve and couldn't get out of bed for Christmas the next day.

I spent three weeks completely out of school and unable to do anything at all aside from simple things like shower and go to the bathroom. They put me on steroids to try to help me through it, and after a while I could manage a half day of school before I was just too exhausted and weak to be there. Two months before I felt normal again. It was horrible.

I hadn't gotten my flu shot this year out of pure forgetfulness until my mom reminded me about it, and a few days later I start seeing all of these articles popping up. Really glad I got that shot. Now I'm bullying everyone in my office about it. Students on the university health insurance get it free from our health center; I'm considering accosting random people in hallways but probably won't go that far.

Get your flu shot, please. Herd immunity is indeed a good thing.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 7:39 AM on January 11, 2013


And he was particularly annoyed that that number also reflects the percent of health care workers who get a vaccine, something he thinks should be mandatory for them.

When I got my flu shot about a month ago the pharmacy tech was all but rolling their eyes at the small group of people stacking up to get shots. Apparently a sudden uptick in people requesting shots had occurred there because of recent alarming local and national news reports about the impending situation. The tech made comments to suggest that they thought we were overreacting and being gullible.
posted by fuse theorem at 7:44 AM on January 11, 2013


I've taught with laryngitis before. You can type line by line and let them read it on the overhead screen. They're amused enough by the novelty it works.

I've done this, too. My students were never so impressed by anything I showed them as they were by my typing speed. Doesn't say much for my aptitude as a teacher, but then, I'm not Finnish.
posted by asperity at 7:49 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


USers, "Obamacare" mandates flu vac. coverage. But then you might have to pay for an office visit. So I still got my shot by paying (slightly less) at a county health office. [And yes, let's discuss yet again the pisspoor state of American health in general. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/10/health/americans-under-50-fare-poorly-on-health-measures-new-report-says.html?smid=fb-share&_r=0

Hey, America, "We're Last, We're Last" doesn't make for such a great chant.]

I'm really worried about this. Have a quite elderly mum in a nursing home who already had a URI just last month.

And as I've mentioned, I work p.t. (NO paid time off) at a germ-infested college, where not only the students but weirdo coworkers are always bringing the sickness. A cube mate who DOES have health coverage and paid time off decided to show up just long enough the other day to expose me to whatever she has. She's also one of my several colleagues "who don't believe in vaccinations." (See "Stupid America" above.)
posted by NorthernLite at 8:03 AM on January 11, 2013


only Reno, Takoma Park, and Beverly Hills have anything less than high flu activity

Add one data-point for Reno. I didn't have time to Google "early flu symptoms" before I spent the next 60 hours in the fetal position on the couch.

Also, if you're interested in this sort of thing, I read a chapter in Nate Silver's book The Signal and the Noise earlier this week that gave a really interesting summary on disease/influenza forecasting and the associated challenges.
posted by clearly at 8:42 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Every single person in my office got a flu shot this season except for one person who has allergy issues with the shot. Now out of 26 people, ~10 are sick, some significantly so. My wholly unscientific conclusion is that everything is bad and nothing is good.
posted by elizardbits at 8:50 AM on January 11, 2013 [8 favorites]


I haven't had a flu shot (nor have I had a cold or the flu) in years. I can't even remember the last time I was sick. Since I work at home, my sickness avoidance strategy is to stay home and use hand sanitizer religiously when I do have to go out.

But I got a shot yesterday at the Visiting Nurse Assn., because of the news I saw the night before. Also because in a few weeks I will be flying to visit my elderly mother in her assisted living facility, and I want to neither a spreader or receiver of virus be.

For anyone looking for a shot, you can go here.

Also, buy and take some elderberry extract.
posted by caryatid at 8:51 AM on January 11, 2013


There's been some talk that the most common flu mutations are significantly different from what went out in the inoculations this year.

Influenza vaccine production is a pretty interesting process. They have to anticipate the dominant or most dangerous strains well ahead of the anticipated influenza season. It's a time-sensitive cat and mouse game of biochemistry, prediction, and manufacturing sometimes resulting with a vaccine that matches up well with the virus, and sometimes completely misses the mark.
posted by clearly at 8:52 AM on January 11, 2013


I just got my flu shot yesterday, and am hoping the immunity kicks in quickly, since I'm on my way to the East Coast now, including dealing with large numbers of people in airports and public transit. I meant to get the shot earlier in the year; I don't usually wait this long.

Getting the shot was free at Kaiser -- I mean, I have health insurance through them, but there was no office co-pay or anything, and it was really fast. Maybe 10 minutes, tops, from check-in to walking out the door. The Walgreens pharmacy on the corner also offers them for $15.

I'm a public health person by training, and believe that vaccines are one of the triumphs of 20th century public health, including the flu vaccine, and wish more people got them.
posted by gingerbeer at 8:56 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


gingerbeer, the nurse who gave me my shot yesterday said it can take up to two weeks for full immunization to kick in.

Good luck.
posted by caryatid at 9:03 AM on January 11, 2013


My co-worker and I started debating getting a flu shot Wednesday just as the news articles were getting going; she got hers yesterday and I got mine two hours ago. I was joined in the waiting room by a number of other folks also getting the shot. Looks like the message, if late, is getting out.

I know it's not perfect protection, and I certainly haven't bothered with the flu shot since my co-workers at my last job strong-armed me into getting the swine flu shot (by refusing to come near me until I did and literally marching me to the mini-clinic), but this year I thought what the hell, why not. I've got an immuno-compromised co-worker and a workplace in which 20,000 people merrily swap germs. Might as well help the herd immunity.

I'm guessing this is just a typical bad flu year and the media is mostly playing it up in the midst of January lulls--but that still means that people will die of the 'flu, so anything I can do to help that, I feel strongly I should. Your opinion and life circumstances may vary.
posted by librarylis at 9:22 AM on January 11, 2013


Also, buy and take some elderberry extract.

And Forsythia.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:22 AM on January 11, 2013


I got my flu shot for free via Cigna but the whole thing was sort of a pain to do. First I couldn't request the voucher for the shot, my wife had to since the insurance is through her office. I only figured out after half an hour of fighting with Cigna's website that even though I have an account, I wasn't allowed to request the voucher for myself. They had to mail the card to me which too more than a week.

Then when I went to Rite-Aid the pharmacist looked at the card (which has a Rite-Aid logo on the back) and said, "I don't know how to process this" and looked at me as if I did. After I pointed out their logo on the back and that Cigna's website had pointed me to their drug store, she grumpily agree to figure out how to deal with the card. After twenty minutes of me standing there while she talked on the phone to Cigna or someone, she finally ushered me into the little sitting area she gave me the shot.

Then when I went to pay for it with that voucher card, they still couldn't figure out how to get the cash register to accept it and finally got a manager to do some magic to get it to work.

I realize that it was a pretty minor set of inconveniences for me but as a nation, we don't really make it easy for people to do the right thing.
posted by octothorpe at 9:31 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can't even remember the last time I was sick. Since I work at home,

That's definitely the data point to base the trend line on. I used to (think I) have the constitution of a horse. I never got sick when I worked in an office. For the last 5+ years I've worked at home and I'm basically an infant in the NIC ward: any exposure to a decent cold and I catch it.
posted by yerfatma at 9:43 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


as a nation, we don't really make it easy for people to do the right thing.

This should probably be turned into a sign and placed over the arrival lounge of every international airport in the country.
posted by aramaic at 9:47 AM on January 11, 2013 [20 favorites]


I'm lucky - my annual gyno check up is in October, and they always ask if I want a flu shot then, so I get to do both at once. Efficiency is key!
posted by gaspode at 9:51 AM on January 11, 2013


The CDC just published Early Estimates of Seasonal Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness — United States, January 2013 today.

"After adjustment for study site, but not for other factors, the estimated vaccine effectiveness (VE) was 62% (95% confidence intervals [CIs] = 51%–71%). This interim estimate indicates moderate effectiveness, and is similar to a summary VE estimate from a meta-analysis of randomized controlled clinical trial data (2); final estimates likely will differ slightly."
posted by gingerbeer at 9:52 AM on January 11, 2013


loquacious, you perfectly described what I've been going through since early November. I was just starting to get over it when I got sick with the exact same nasty over the last week of December. I have just now finally stopped the coughing fits at all hours of every day. I did go to the hospital, which got me over it the first time enough to mostly function again.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:54 AM on January 11, 2013


And he was particularly annoyed that that number also reflects the percent of health care workers who get a vaccine, something he thinks should be mandatory for them.

My husband is a bio-med Ph.D. candidate and I thought it was a little funny that they are required to get yearly TB tests (he doesnt' work with viruses at all - he works with heart tissue) but they don't have to get a yearly flu shot if they don't want to.


I'm a postdoc in a department that's administratively part of a medical school. Even though my lab is 1.3 miles from the nearest hospital, we were all required to get vaccinated (as in, they told us we wouldn't get paid if we didn't submit proof of vaccination.)
posted by juliapangolin at 10:26 AM on January 11, 2013


I am just now getting over it, and can verify loquacious's story as being pretty much what I experienced, although for me the "green goo" stage came about day 3. My roommate got sick first and he had a flu shot in October. It didn't help him in the slightest. My symptoms started last Friday, with a sudden onset of body aches, mostly in my back and neck. By Saturday afternoon I was feeling sniffly and not right. I went to the store and bought a couple of bottles of cough syrup, knowing what was coming. By Sunday morning my sinuses were streaming continuously and I was running a temperature of 101°f. Even walking up and down the stairs left me exhausted. I spent most of my time in bed in a kind of half conscious haze since I couldn't really sleep for more than an hour or so. I figured that part of it would last 24-48 hours but it went on for four days. Today is the first day that I feel even close to normal and the first time since last week I've even been outside.
I survived (and still surviving) on lots of Nyquil, Mucinex, Advil, and one of those Sinus Rinse kits. The sinus rinses are completely disgusting but the feeling of relief is tremendous even though it only lasts for 10-15 minutes. I boil up a kettle of water in the morning to sanitize it and then keep the water in a clean bottle to use in the rinses 4 or 5 times a day.
posted by smoothvirus at 11:06 AM on January 11, 2013


The Law of Completely Predictable Consequences, Charles P. Pierce, Esquire Politics Blog, 11 January 2013
People go to the hospital to get better fast because they know they can't afford to take time off from work. Letting them heal up with pay at home gets you a healthier, more dependable workforce, but that notion runs counter to the widespread belief of [Wisconsin Governor Scott] Walker and the people who pull his strings that we are no longer a nation of citizens, but a nation of employees. Back to your oars, people.
posted by ob1quixote at 11:38 AM on January 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


juliapangolin: I'm a postdoc in a department that's administratively part of a medical school. Even though my lab is 1.3 miles from the nearest hospital, we were all required to get vaccinated (as in, they told us we wouldn't get paid if we didn't submit proof of vaccination.)
The hospital where my wife works required everyone to get a flu vaccine this year. It's the first time she remembers it being mandatory.
posted by ob1quixote at 11:49 AM on January 11, 2013


Being diabetic, and in contact with my dad in a nursing home, as well as babies in the family and one person living at a subsidized elderly/disabled apartment complex ... well, I've drunk the Kool-Aid on the flu shot, as well as the elbow sneeze and the regular hand sanitizer routine. If this is a different strain I sure hope I don't encounter it because we are in dire shape if I can't work.

So please -- everyone else. Do your part for herd immunity!
posted by dhartung at 12:21 PM on January 11, 2013


As I said, really super glad you're better, but not seeing a doctor when you believe you have pneumonia strikes me as kind of a terrible idea.

Sorry. It wasn't a "toughness" or "cred" thing for me. It just knocked me out for a few days to a week and then I was slowly but steadily getting better so I rolled with that. And it obviously wasn't actually pneumonia because I didn't have a fever, nausea or any of the other usual symptoms of that kind of bacterial infection - but it was such a phlegmy experience that it might as well have been pneumonia, that it was like pneumonia.

I'm on disability and not working, either, so I didn't go to a workplace and get a bunch of other people sick. I intentionally stayed home as much as possible.

But I also forget that I have insurance and that I could have gone in to get checked out. In retrospect some Robotussin with Codeine sounds like a fine idea and would have helped prevent my sore ribs and sleeplessness, but since I'm on state insurance they tend to be very resistant to prescribing opiates of any kind.

And I do have a naturally strong immune system. I almost never catch colds or get sick, and I don't take particularly good care of myself. I maybe catch a mild cold every year or every other year. I don't do flu shots because I basically never catch the flu. I've made it through 10 or more flu seasons without catching it, so it's not like I was expecting it this year or I'm refusing to get a flu shot for weird reasons. I'm not anti-vax - I just had my TDAP combo shot at the end of summer last year when I wrecked my leg in a bike crash and ended up in the ER on IV antibiotics.

If I had had the other symptoms of pneumonia (chills/fever, nausea/vomiting, diarrhea) I would have certainly gone to get it checked out. I've had actual pneumonia before and it sucks.

This was just a really gross cough of an unusually productive sort.
posted by loquacious at 12:47 PM on January 11, 2013


I work in a healthcare clinic for people with HIV (so immunocompromised) and for some reason we aren't required to get the flu shot. Of course since my 1996 stay in the ICU with the flu, and the bed pan and the bronchoscopy and the tubes down the nose and the hey, I have always gotten it.

I don't expect to be immune, but I don't expect to end up in the ICU again either.
posted by Sophie1 at 1:01 PM on January 11, 2013


BTW, I hope nobody thought I was actually recommending quack cures like forsythia. That was a reference to the movie Contagion.

What is really pissing me off about this flu is that how I got my dose is an example of the decline of American life. When I had a salaried job, I would stay home if I was getting sick, because I had sick days covered, and a health insurance plan so I could go to a doctor easily and inexpensively. My co-workers also respected each other by staying home at the sign of impending illness. It was the height of discourtesy to show up at work with the sniffles, unless it was a work emergency you couldn't handle from home, and even then you'd have to isolate yourself from the rest of the workforce.

Now I am a temp worker, a short term contractor that they call a "contingent." I work amidst temp workers, many of whom are "marginally employed" like me, many are on state-provided health insurance due to poverty (like me) and all of them are paid by the hour. I got my flu from the kid sitting next to me, who came into work damn well knowing he had the flu, but his measly hourly wage was more important than the health of all the other workers in the office. And when I get back to the minimally healthy condition that I can do my job, I'm going to be back at work with no consideration as to whether I am still contagious. I have a structural disincentive to be considerate.

I remember back in the late 80s when people were complaining they were reluctant to seek better jobs because they had "job lock," they couldn't afford to lose their current insurance by starting a new job with another health plan. In retrospect, that sort of seems to me like being worried about having enough room to store all the gold and platinum ingots the company kept dropping on your desk.

In years past, my current job would have been a permanent position. But now companies work with temps or subcontractors, specifically so they don't have to provide health benefits. This resulted in degradation of the quality of life for their workers. My company has health initiatives, like exercise classes, health seminars, free (ineffective) flu shots, etc. But it's all fucking lip service when the company structured its compensation plan to give the workers an incentive to come to work even when they're sick, or else they don't get paid. Cause you know what's worse than being sick? Being sick and not being able to pay the rent.
posted by charlie don't surf at 1:33 PM on January 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


The NYT is reporting that this year's vaccine is 62% effective (the normal range is 50-70%).
posted by dephlogisticated at 1:39 PM on January 11, 2013


Yeah, that matches my local/anecdotal statistics, like about 1 in 4 or 1 in 3 people who have had the shot are still catching the green lung death monster.
posted by loquacious at 1:43 PM on January 11, 2013


And it's still hitting Seattle hard and it's basically going through my entire local contact list - many of them who've had flu shots this year.

Sorry to hear you got that nasty strain that's floating around here loquacious. I can verify Seattle is a plague ground. So many people around the area seem to have it, including a lot of my partner's co-workers and their kids. And it's seriously kicking people's asses.

Google has an amazing amount of data on people. Which scares the hell out of me. But the public health benefits of anonymized data like this could be amazing.

I'd love to see some more visualizations on the data. Looking at spread of the virus through regions of the country/state/city by time, using something like Hans Rosling's visualization tools. Pulling in social network information, which they have access to in many cases, to show spread of disease among groups and communities.

Even more importantly, they have enough click data to build up fairly accurate demographic profiles including income level with basic machine learning classification techniques (see Who uses web search for what: and how and The demographics of web search for sample research on this). I don't know for certain, but I'm willing to guess the poor are more likely to get sick due to lack of resources, time off, etc. It would hopefully help the health care debate to show that public health care benefits everyone.
posted by formless at 1:45 PM on January 11, 2013


Forgot to add to that last comment:

.. the poor are more likely to get sick AND then spread it on to other members of the population, regardless of income. I realize we should fix healthcare for everyone, regardless of income, but showing the less empathetic that this impacts them and their families could change quite a few minds.

Google could team up with the NYT's awesome data visualization lab staff and make it easy for people to interact with this data. The work of field and research epidemiologists already doing this is critically important, but their audience is usually other academics.

Google and the NYT have the public attention and resources to make something like that easily available.
posted by formless at 1:55 PM on January 11, 2013


The hospital where I work doesn't mandate the flu shot but makes it very easy to get it (eg to get your free Christmas turkey, you have to walk through an immunization area). I got my shot and do every year. However, we have a rule that they won't pay your holiday hours if you're unexpectedly out during a holiday week, which meant that me and all my co-workers with the plague had to come to work or miss out on 20% of our pay (which I can't afford). The rest of the time we have paid sick time. The upshot of this is that everybody is sick now because everybody who wasn't sick caught it the week of Christmas.
posted by joannemerriam at 2:31 PM on January 11, 2013


>>How do we jibe this kind of preventative work with that knowledge that we're approximately 1000% overpopulated as a planet?
>Are we?


Wiki sez:
* Every year 6 million children die of hunger
* 925 million people are undernourished,

I'll just stop right there. We could feed them all, but history shows that we do not and we will not. A population of children the size of NYC is starving to death each year. The amount of suffering is inconceivable.

Rationalize all you like (yeah there are lots of reasons, aren't there always?) but I call that overpopulated. A result of our benign neglect, circumstances, political difficulties, whatever. A crime THAT big proves we, the human race, have procreated far beyond our capacity to GAF. No matter what the major religions teach about birth control.
posted by Twang at 3:19 PM on January 11, 2013


Haven't heard of any cases at my workplace (university campus), but we're suffering from The Cold to End All Colds. Probably 40% of my office has had it, has it, or is coming down with it. I'm on the tail end.

When I saw my doctor earlier in the week after a sleepless night spent coughing violently, he wanted me to get the flu shot that day. My lungs are compromised by asthma, so I'm apparently high-risk now. I felt too lousy to do it then, but I did go back today to get the shot. (I always like to do it on Fridays because I feel like crap for a couple days afterwards, and this way I don't have to miss work.)

The Kaiser clinic was hella busy with folks getting their vaccines. So busy, they'd run out of the adult dosage. I had to get two pediatric vaccines instead. :-|
posted by mudpuppie at 4:57 PM on January 11, 2013


I've always sort of wondered how many fewer people would get sick/die if workers felt safe in staying home when they were ill.

As it happens, a relevant data point in today's news: One in three U.S. workers has no paid sick days
posted by dhartung at 4:59 PM on January 11, 2013


Seriously, I live in Seattle too and have started joking that I think someone dropped a vial or something. I'm pretty sure I got the Lung Monster from someone who picked it up on a pub crawl...so 5 Point being GZ makes a disturbing amount of sense.

Also, loquacious, I got really excited reading your comment because HEY LOOK SEE someone has the same symptoms as meee it's the disease not the..cigarettes...damnit.
posted by zinful at 9:28 PM on January 11, 2013


Oh and my partner just said, reading my comment: "Moral of the story: either quit smoking or stay away from 5 point."
posted by zinful at 9:29 PM on January 11, 2013


I get irrationally mad about people working when they're sick and spreading their sicky germs around. My last job had 3 sick days and two weeks vacation. When swine flu came around, local health officials we're recommending letting people take off or work from home. So, my company said people could dipping into their vacation time for sick leave. I did, but only after getting sick because people refushed to waste their precious vacation and got everyone sick.

I also don't understand fast food places that make/let sick employees work. It's fgross and it gets everyone else sick. I keep hoping that there will be a mini epidemic that won't kill anyone but will know enough people out of work that employers will be forced to rethink their sick lease policies.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 10:14 PM on January 11, 2013


Paid sick leave? You're lucky to have a job at all, let alone sick leave. You know how many people would kill for your job? I could find a dozen replacements in an hour. Now shut up and get back to work.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:27 PM on January 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


The mister and I are just getting over a mild case of the crud. We had flu shots in October, so they either made it milder or we got infected with a different strain. I wonder if it's worth getting the updated shot? We're both in the "required" category (diabetes and heart disease).
posted by deborah at 11:51 PM on January 11, 2013


Having never had to pay for a flu shot directly (my taxes pay for it of course), how much are they in countries where you have to pay for them directly?
posted by juiceCake at 12:01 AM on January 12, 2013


deborah, what makes you think there is an updated vaccine? I haven't heard of an updated version. From what I've heard, it takes so long to make the vaccine that they pick one set of strains to use each year. Even when H1N1 Swine Flu hit, the annual vaccine had already been made, so they produced a separate H1N1 shot, which took too long to produce. I caught Swine Flu while I was checking back each week to sere if any was available yet. My doctor said they only received enough to vaccinate some of the hospital staff, he got a shot himself. Gee thanks doc for your honesty and fuck you.

I always gert a strong immune response to the vaccine, it gives me a "mini-flu," I get the muscle aches and even a slight fever, but it is gone the next day. This year, no reaction at all. I think this year's shot was just a dud.

BTW I am especially pissed to have quit smoking and been clean for 10 weeks when I caught the flu. I have generally found that my deliberate efforts to improve my health all result in a substantial degradation of my health. I am healthier when I don't try to be healthy.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:26 AM on January 12, 2013


how much are they in countries where you have to pay for them directly?

Mine was $25. It depends on where you get it - I've seen prices up to $50.
posted by caryatid at 7:09 AM on January 12, 2013


> I live in Seattle too and have started joking that I think someone dropped a vial or something

I went into a hippie vitamin store today and said I was looking for elderberry extract. "You and the rest of Seattle," said the sales guy.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:11 PM on January 18, 2013


> Having never had to pay for a flu shot directly (my taxes pay for it of course), how much are they in countries where you have to pay for them directly?

Mine was covered by my insurance, so long as I got it at my doctor's office.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:45 PM on January 18, 2013


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