October 07, 2008

Why Vaccinate? Fighting Mutants

It's flu vaccination season again, and we've all heard the excuses not to take the stick: It hurts. (briefly) I never get the flu. (yet) I don't hang around with old people or babies. (you never go out in public?) I'm healthy; I can take it. (better than you can take a needle, huh?)

We all know the reasons to be vaccinated too, or at least we know some of them. We know that, even if we're not vaccinated against the exact strain we're exposed to, vaccination can reduce the severity of the flu. We know that a barrier of vaccinated people is the best way to keep the flu virus from reaching vulnerable populations, whose bodies can be overwhelmed by the virus.

You may not know that getting vaccinated makes you a scifi hero. Why? You get to fight mutants.

Okay, you actually get to fight mutations, but it's still a heroic thing to do. You see, every time a copy of the flu virus infects one of your cells, it marshalls the cell to start producing more copies of the virus. Each of those copies has the potential to be a bad copy, a mutation. Once produced, a mutation may die on its own, your immune system may zap it, or it may infect another cell and start cranking out copies of the mutation.

These mutations, just like most scifi mutants, are bad news. Why? Because each bad copy that survives is one step further away from the strain of the virus to which people have some immunity. That makes the virus spread better, because it gets to more cells. So, if you don't get immunized and you get the flu, the flu virus you shed may be more likely to make someone else sick than the flu shed by the person you got it from.

Also, although it's an unlikely event, each mutation--or a combination of rapid mutations--has the potential to turn the flu into something no one's immune system recognizes. That means it can get into anyone's cells and multiply. That means people fighting to develop an immune response before the mutant virus kills them. That means pandemic.

Unlikely, as I said (the next pandemic flu is almost certain to come from animals), but not impossible. Why chance it when you can be a hero?

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