28 January 2013

Get Your Flu Shots Here?

All my life I’ve known of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the CDC, as the cognoscenti call it. I always believed that here was a governmental organization that actually cared about people, about keeping people healthy. And not just in the States, but all around the world. After all, its stated mission is to be the nation’s "premier health promotion, prevention, and preparedness agency and a global leader in public health." Americans have always turned to the CDC — by telephone or letter back in the "old" days, and via their Web site now — for all kinds of health advice, including what shots to get before traveling abroad. I remember that getting shots before traveling was a really big deal, something you had to check off your "to-do" travel list. Nobody wanted to get sick on their honeymoon in Paris.

My favorite -- lotion, not spray

I just checked the CDC site last week, and found that in the past three months there have been warnings about a dengue outbreak in Madeira, Portugal, an outbreak of yellow fever in the Sudan, a cholera epidemic in the Dominican Republic, ebola in Uganda, sarcocystosis (sarco who?) in Malaysia and malaria in Greece. Whew! At least for once Brazil can relax. You have to go through a lot of drop-down menus to find any warnings about travel here right now, and what you finally get is the usual warning about dengue, kind of a default warning. If nothing else, there will always be dengue. My suggestion is not to worry, they’ve got a lot of mosquito repellant in Brazil.

For years, though, Brazil was one of the countries with long lists of recommended shots to get prior to travel here: the CDC recommended vaccinations against hepatitis A, hepatitis B, typhoid, yellow fever and malaria, albeit mostly for people traveling to the Amazon region, the subtropical areas, and interior areas where hygiene is a word, not a concept. I never got any shots in all my travels around Brazil, but plenty of people back home shook their heads, certain that I would come down with something. Never happened. I’ve been sicker in New York from badly prepared food than I’ve ever been in my many years traveling and living in Brazil.

Anyway, stop the presses! The tables have turned! Brazilians who are planning to travel to the United States right now are receiving dire warnings about the virulent strains of flu that are fast spreading around the States, the influenza A viruses known as H3N2 and H1N1, as well as several influenza B viruses. There are scads of newspaper stories, and television and radio reports every day. Anxiety reigns. Brazilians are scared.

Footnote: On the same web page where the Brazilian Health Ministry is urging travelers to get their flu shots at least 7 to 15 days before their trip, it is informing them that there are no flu shots available. You see, right now it’s summer in Brazil. Brazil’s allotment of flu vaccines was used up during the winter season here, when the campaign to get people immunized was in full swing, including all those freebie shots for us old folks over 60. What a conundrum! What’s a Brazilian with a ticket to the U.S. to do?

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